If you’ve ever wished upon a star or consulted your horoscope about the future, you might be inspired by a new, super-bright star shining on the horizon of Earth’s sustainable energy future. Dubbed, “China’s Artificial Sun,” this 15-year fusion project has produced an energy blast 6 times brighter than the star at our solar system’s center, the “real” sun.
China’s success has ignited the wishes and dreams of fusion scientists and engineers around the world and launched an exciting international project to replace toxic fossil fuels with sustainable energy generated from seawater.
China’s Shining EAST Star
China’s “artificial sun,” is officially named the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, or EAST. Based at the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, fusion reactor construction began in 2003 and operation began in 2006. In 2017, EAST set the world record as the first tokamak to successfully control fusion for over 100 seconds at approximately 50 million degrees Celsius (approx. 90 million degrees Fahrenheit).
The internal temperature of the sun, incidentally, is approximately 15 million °C (~27 million °F).
Achieving its ultimate milestone in November 2018, EAST successfully sustained fusion above 100 million °C (~180 million °F) – 6 times hotter than the sun. That’s freaking hot!
Is Fusion the Future of Sustainable Energy?
What’s so important about fusion, and why is it so exciting? Fusion should not be confused with fission, which is the process used at roughly 450 nuclear power plants around the world. The nuclear fission process splits atoms of heavy elements like uranium and plutonium to generate heat, turning water into steam to generate electricity. It also generates tons of polluted water and long-living radioactive waste, not to mention the raw materials for nuclear weapons, and the potential risk of catastrophic nuclear meltdowns like the one at Fukushima.
Fusion, which is the same process that powers our solar system’s sun and stars, likewise generates heat that turns water into steam, which generates electricity.
As Dr. Stewart Praeger explains to the New York Times, “Fusion energy generates zero greenhouse gases.” Praeger is a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Director. He states that fusion “offers no chance of a catastrophic accident. It can be available to all nations, relying only on the Earth’s oceans. When commercialized, it will transform the world’s energy supply.”
Transforming the world’s energy supply from limited, toxic fossil fuels to unlimited clean, renewable, sustainable energy is something truly exciting – igniting lots of wishes and dreams for the future.
A Global Team Foresees the Fusion Future
Taking up where China’s EAST fusion project left off, the global fusion community has benefited from China’s brilliant experiments. As a fully open test facility, EAST has evolved into an international testbed for tokamak fusion-related physics and operations research.
And, as wishes and dreams have evolved into funding and global partnerships, the future of fusion-based sustainable energy is evolving into reality. Above the town of Cadarache in Southern France, the world’s largest nuclear fusion device has been under construction since 2010. Known as the International Thermonuclear Fusion Reactor (ITER), its machine assembly began in July 2020, to the delight of team members from 35 partner countries, including the US, European Union, China, Japan, Russia, India, and others.
Director John Smith of General Atomic’s magnetic technology told LA Times, “It changes, I think, the whole world’s energy economics entirely if fusion goes forward.” He added that it will take years until nuclear fusion becomes a commercial reality, but he’s confident that ITER will achieve its goals.
“Now that I’ve seen it being brought together,” Smith said, “and then working intimately with the worldwide group, I have no doubt that it will come together.”
You Can Help, Too
Most of us aren’t fusion engineers, but we can still contribute to a sustainable energy future. Try these helpful ideas:
- Replace lightbulbs with low-watt extra-bright LED bulbs
- Dry clothes on hangers from a tension rod in your shower
- Wash dishes by hand
- Reduce water heater temperature to your preferred shower temperature
- Install a programmable thermostat to cut unnecessary heating/cooling
Reduce electronic power waste, too. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that idle electronic devices waste $19 billion/year – about $165/US household.
You don’t have to wish upon a star – you can help save energy today by unplugging devices and cutting off your power strips!
So, do you want to do your part and join the PerSus community today? You’ll soon be able to download the PerSus app and get started making a difference in your community by taking control of your personal sustainability. Sign up below to be the first one to know when it’s live!