Sat, Apr 13, 2019 - Page 6 News List

China eyes fusion energy

Reuters, HEFEI, China

China aims to complete and start generating power from an experimental nuclear fusion reactor by about 2040, a senior scientist involved in the project said on Thursday, as it works to develop and commercialize a game-changing source of clean energy.

China is preparing to restart its stalled domestic nuclear reactor program after a three-year moratorium on new approvals, but at a state laboratory in the city of Hefei, Anhui Province, scientists are looking beyond crude atom-splitting in order to pursue nuclear fusion, where power is generated by combining nuclei together, an endeavor likened by skeptics to “putting the sun in a box.”

While nuclear fusion could revolutionize energy production, with pilot projects targeting energy output at 10 times the input, no fusion project has up to now created a net energy increase.

Critics have said that commercially viable fusion always remains 50 years in the future.

China has already spent about 6 billion yuan (US$893 million) on a large doughnut-shaped installation known as a tokamak, which uses extremely high temperatures to boil hydrogen isotopes into a plasma, fusing them together and releasing energy.

If that energy could be utilized, it would require only tiny amounts of fuel and create virtually no radioactive waste.

While technological challenges remain immense, the project has been awarded another 6 billion yuan in funding and new construction plans are under way, Hefei Institutes of Physical Science Institute of Plasma Physics deputy director Song Yuntao (宋雲濤) said.

“Five years from now, we will start to build our fusion reactor, which will need another 10 years of construction. After that is built, we will construct the power generator and start generating power by about 2040,” he said at the site, built on a leafy peninsula jutting into a lake.

China has been researching fusion since 1958, but at the current stage it is still more about international cooperation than competition, Song said.

The country is a member of the 35-nation International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a 10 billion euro (US$11.3 billion) fusion project under construction in France.

China is responsible for manufacturing 9 percent of the reactor’s components and is playing a major role in core technologies like magnetic containment, as well as the production of components that can withstand temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius.

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