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China’s EAST Tokamak Moves Closer to Reaching Fusion

Feb. 5, 2016 (EIRNS)—Taking an important step toward the production of energy from a sustained thermonuclear reaction, scientists at China’s Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei reported on Feb. 3 that experiments on their EAST superconducting tokamak had successfully created a sustained hydrogen plasma for a record 102 seconds. The experiment, according to the Institute, required that the team solve a number of scientific and engineering problems, such as the precise alignment of the magnets, and keeping the plasma particles and heat from escaping from the tokamak. Instabilities in the plasma and the "leaking" of the ionized gas have plagued all fusion researchers, and prevented the long-lived confinement of the plasma. The scientists worked "day and night," the institute says, to achieve their results.

The plasma measured a temperature of 50 million degrees, which is about half of what will be required for deuterium-tritium fusion, which the researchers say will still take some time for EAST to achieve. Although higher-than 50-million-degree plasma temperatures have been achieved before (for example, by Princeton, in the late 1970s) containment of the plasma has been in only the tens of seconds. The goal of EAST is to reach 100 million degrees in the plasma and operate for 1,000 second, towards an eventual steady-state operation, which will be required for commercial power production.

These recent experimental results and all of the progress on EAST will be applied to the international ITER project. The Chinese scientists also work closely with fusion researchers at General Atomics, and their DIII-D tokamak, in California.