Why is China trying to build an artificial sun?

China is looking for a clean, sustainable energy source and is turning to the power of nuclear fusion.
Sejal Sharma
An aerial photo of CRAFT
An aerial photo of CRAFT


What is a clean source of power that could provide clean and unlimited energy? Nuclear energy, which uses nuclear fission, comes to mind. But there is another potential source of energy that would promote sustainability – nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is the opposite of nuclear fission. Fission means splitting atoms apart, which results in the release of energy. Fusion is when two atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus. Fusion is the process that powers the Sun and the stars.

In a bid to harness the power of the Sun, China is building a science facility called Comprehensive Research Facility for Fusion Technology (CRAFT) in Hefei, Anhui province. According to the country’s official news agency, Xinhua, the facility will serve to incubate core technologies used in the power generation of fusion energy. 

CRAFT will be completed by 2025

It’s the country’s largest nuclear fusion research facility and has been nicknamed ‘Kuafu’ after a mythical giant. Kuafu was a giant in Chinese mythology who tried to capture the Sun but died in the process. China has used the mythical giant’s name in previous projects as well. Last year, China launched a space solar observatory nicknamed ‘Kuafu-1’ in October.

Pictures uploaded by Xinhua reveal a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber where the fusion experiments will take place. In Anhui, there exists another nuclear fusion facility named the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), which has previously been known to break records in the generation of fusion energy. 

Inside EAST is a superconducting magnetic fusion energy reactor, which is also doughnut-shaped and uses magnetic fields to confine plasma at very high temperatures, reported SCMP. In December 2021, EAST said they were able to generate 120 million degrees Fahrenheit plasma (around 70 million degrees Celsius) and hold it for 1,056 seconds, reported Newsweek.

Clean energy is the future

Although coal and natural gas are the primary energy sources around the world, scientists and researchers are scrambling to find alternative clean energy sources that are not limited in supply, like coal and natural gas. Nuclear fusion replicates our Sun's physics and generates large amounts of energy into electricity. Fusion doesn’t leave any radioactive waste and is said to be even safer than nuclear fission.

According to Xinhua, one liter of seawater has enough deuterium to produce fusion energy, equivalent to burning 300 liters (79 gallons) of petrol. Scientists and staff at the facility have already started working on projects and testing the equipment at the complex.

Hu Jiansheng, deputy director of the Institute of Plasma Physics at Hefei Institutes of Physical Science, told the Global Times that China could achieve the application of fusion energy in about 30 to 50 years.

Although China's EAST is being used to test this technology for an even bigger reactor under construction in France, the world is getting closer to sustainably harnessing cosmic power.

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