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Fusion power has been the fevered dream of scientists, environmentalists and futurists for almost a century. For the past few decades, scientists have been attempting to find a way to create sustainable fusion reactions that would provide human beings with clean, abundant energy, which would finally break our dependence on fossil fuels and other unclean methods.
In recent years, many positive strides have been made that are bringing the “fusion era” closer to reality. Most recently, scientists working with the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) – aka. the “Chinese artificial sun” – set a new record by super-heating clouds of hydrogen plasma to over 1 million degrees – a temperature which is six times hotter than the Sun itself!
Scientists - Atoms - Hydrogen - Energy - Block
While scientists are capable of fusing atoms of hydrogen to produce energy, the stumbling block has always been reaching what is known as the “break even point”. This is where the energy produced by a self-sustained fusion reaction is equal to the energy needed to initiate it. And while we have no yet reached this point, scientists are getting closer all the time.
Currently, the two most popular methods for producing fusion power are the inertial confinement approach, and the tokamak reactor. In the former case, lasers are used to fuse pellets of deuterium (H², or “heavy hydrogen”) to create a fusion reaction. In the latter, the process involves a torus-shaped confinement chamber that uses magnetic fields and an internal current to confine high-energy plasma.
Super-heating - Plasma - Stable - Fusion - Reaction
By super-heating this plasma and keeping its stable, a self-sustaining fusion reaction can be created. Whereas other tokamak reactors rely on magnetic coils to keep a plasma torus stable, the Chinese EAST reactor relies on the magnetic fields produced by the moving plasma itself to keep the torus in check. This makes it less stable, but allows physicists to increase...
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