China has approved the construction of a mega laboratory that will generate energy through nuclear fusion. The government plans to complete the project by 2025. When operational, the plant will produce 50 million amperes of electricity, twice as much as the most powerful equipment of its kind, the so-called “Z Machine”, operated by the United States.
The plans were announced last Friday (9) by Peng Xianjue, professor at Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP) and one of the country’s leading nuclear weapons experts.
The process of nuclear fusion involves forcing two atomic nuclei together under intense conditions, creating a single heavier nucleus. However, their mass is not equal to the sum of the masses of the original nuclei, so the “remaining” weight is converted into energy.
According to the South China Morning Post, the professor said in his presentation that Chinese researchers intended to create a nuclear fusion reaction through an electrical charge so powerful that it would be able to fuse together two types of isotopes of the hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. This process can release a huge amount of energy which will be converted into electricity.
“Fusion ignition is a great treasure of science and technology in today’s world,” Peng said.
Scientists around the world have been trying to develop a working nuclear fusion power plant for decades. Although fusion has already been performed successfully in the laboratory, it has not yet been possible to generate more electrical energy by the process than is needed to trigger it to make the operation commercially viable.
Once this problem is overcome, nuclear fusion promises to be a clean and abundant source of energy.
the Chinese approach
The Chinese reactor, called Z-FFR, will be the heart of the laboratory to be built in the city of Chengdu, capital of the southern province of Sichuan. According to the newspaper, the equipment will be fully operational in 2028 and will become commercially viable from 2035.
It will need several high-performance capacitors, as well as a reaction chamber capable of withstanding exposure to thousands of explosive electric shocks every day.
The Chinese approach will consist of a mixture of nuclear fusion and fission processes. Instead of going directly to the electrical grid, the energy produced by nuclear fusion will power a stream of particles that will reach uranium samples and, therefore, trigger a process of nuclear fission – in which atomic nuclei are split – to produce even more energy.
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