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Creators of 'artificial sun' announce another nuclear fusion breakthrough: 'World-first achievement'

"The innovative magnetic configuration … represents a major advancement."

"The innovative magnetic configuration ... represents a major advancement."

Photo Credit: China National Nuclear Corporation

Chinese scientists have unveiled the next generation of their "artificial sun." And while it sounds like a headline fit for the distant future, the breakthrough could have an impact soon. 

They haven't created another star, but the experts are figuring out how to harness the powerful nuclear fusion power that is a part of one. 

The latest news stems from the China National Nuclear Corporation's Huanliu-3 tokamak. Tokamaks are typically doughnut-shaped devices that use magnetic fields to contain plasma during fusion-reaction experiments. They are a part of numerous fusion projects around the world that aim to develop a way to create more power than is needed to make it. 

The researchers announced that they have discovered an advanced magnetic-field structure that is being reported as a "world-first achievement." It could help experts in "enhancing control capacity of nuclear fusion devices," according to the Global Times. 

Interesting Engineering's Aman Tripathi describes it as "crucial for controlling and confining the superheated plasma within the tokamak." Fusion reactions involve temperatures of around 212 million degrees Fahrenheit. 

The most recent experiment included researchers from 17 labs around the world. Since its completion in 2020, the tokamak has marked several development milestones

The Global Times reports that it's part of China's effort to become a world leader in fusion and play a key role in cleaning up the energy sector. 

There are 440 nuclear fission reactors around the world, and they provide about 10% of the planet's electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA). 

Fission splits elements to form energy without creating air pollution. While it is a stable source of power, the process results in radioactive waste. In rare cases, meltdowns can be catastrophic and cause toxic zones that last for decades. 

Fusion, on the other hand, combines two lighter elements to form a heavier one. Energy can be created from this process without producing "long-lived" nuclear waste, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency

The hiccup in the concept has been stabilizing the reaction with a sustainable process. The good news is that researchers are surpassing long-held limits that had been perceived as barriers.  

The Huanliu-3 is another example. If fusion can unleash sun-like power for our energy sector, the results would revolutionize power production. 

Harmful air pollution from burning fossil fuels generates more than 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, per the WNA. If that were eliminated, the resulting fresher air would limit health risks associated with breathing pollution and reduce the chance of more extreme weather, which NASA has linked to our warming planet. 

That's helpful not just for our health but also for our wallets, as severe storms, floods, and droughts continue to impact insurance costs

The international team working on the Chinese tokamak, or human-made sun, could provide the fusion solution. 

"The innovative magnetic configuration discovered by the international team of scientists represents a major advancement in plasma physics and fusion technology," Tripathi wrote for IE. 

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