China announces plan for hybrid fission-fusion power plant

China announces plan for hybrid fission-fusion power plant

China says it will start generating fusion power using the world’s largest pulse-powered power plant by 2028, making fusion power a reality — an eyebrow-raising claim given decades of research and billions of dollars that have already been poured into doing just that.

“Being the first in the world to achieve energy-scale fusion release will be the most important milestone on the road to fusion energy for human beings,” said Peng Xianjue, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics, the top man of the nation’s nuclear weapons scientist. conformable South China Morning Post.

A long-held dream that has been more the stuff of science fiction than real science, the prospect of clean nuclear fusion energy, generated by the force of atomic nuclei fusing together, has tempted scientists for nearly a century.

Over the past few years, researchers and a growing number of startups have claimed that bringing the world ever closer to nuclear fusion – but the reality is much less impressive, with expensive reactors still requiring much more energy to to start than them. are able to extinguish.

China’s new reactor will essentially replicate the detonation of a thermonuclear bomb by producing powerful electrical pulses. These pulses generate enough pressure to fuse atoms together, a process that releases energy.

But it won’t be the first of its kind, and the history of technology serves to dampen the hype surrounding this new project. In fact, all previous “Z-pinch” reactors that have been built around the world so far have failed to generate more energy than they needed to produce these pulses because SCMP reports.

Oddly, the plan is for the fusion reactor to power a more traditional nuclear fission facility, a stepping stone for the future adoption of commercial fusion energy technology.

Having been completed in 2025, the claim is that the plant will continue to produce nuclear fusion power until 2028, with technology that will be ready for commercial adoption by 2035, according to Peng – a highly ambitious timeline, to say the least.

To date, few countries have offered a nuclear fusion timeline nearly as ambitious as this one, but China is certainly invested in the technology.

In early 2022, China claimed to have broken its own record when its “Artificial Sun” reactor sustained temperatures ten times hotter than the Sun for more than 17 consecutive minutes, blowing previous records out of the water.

The record, however, was set by a very different type of fusion reactor, which relies on more conventional approaches to fusion power, heating plasma inside a donut-shaped reactor called a “tokamak” to extreme temperatures and pressure.

It’s hard to say what to make of this latest announcement, especially given China’s secrecy surrounding its scientific institutions, not to mention its military.

However, if China is anywhere near as close to nuclear fusion as it claims, the technology could represent a major paradigm shift as the world continues to suffer from energy shortages and the effects of climate change.

But given the seemingly insurmountable challenges involved in making fusion energy a reality, we have our doubts.

READ MORE: China’s top weapons scientist says nuclear fusion power is 6 years away [South China Morning Post]

More on nuclear power: First small nuclear reactor greenlit by US regulators

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