China’s Artificial Sun | 07 Dec 2020

Why in News

China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time recently, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities. The nuclear reactor is expected to provide clean energy.

Key Points

  • The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source.
    • HL-2M Tokamak device is used in it to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs naturally in the sun.
  • It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun.
  • Located in Sichuan province, the reactor is often called an “artificial sun” on account of the enormous heat and power it produces.
  • Other Similar Experiment:
    • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
      • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is a collaboration of 35 nations launched in 1985.
      • It is located in France.
      • Aim:
        • It aims to build the world's largest tokamak to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.
        • The tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel. Like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant uses this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators.

Nuclear Reactions

  • Description:
    • A nuclear reaction is the process in which two nuclei, or a nucleus and an external subatomic particle, collide to produce one or more new nuclides.Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to another.
  • Types:
    • Nuclear Fission:
      • The nucleus of an atom splits into two daughter nuclei.
      • This decay can be natural spontaneous splitting by radioactive decay, or can actually be simulated in a lab by achieving necessary conditions (bombarding with neutrons, alpha particles, etc.).
      • The resulting fragments tend to have a combined mass which is less than the original. The missing mass is usually converted into nuclear energy.
      • Currently all commercial nuclear reactors are based on nuclear fission.
    • Nuclear Fusion:
      • Nuclear Fusion is defined as the combining of two lighter nuclei into a heavier one.
      • Such nuclear fusion reactions are the source of energy in the Sun and other stars.
      • It takes considerable energy to force the nuclei to fuse. The conditions needed for this process are extreme millions of degrees of temperature and millions of pascals of pressure.
      • The hydrogen bomb is based on a thermonuclear fusion reaction. However, a nuclear bomb based on the fission of uranium or plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb to provide initial energy.