It is well known that China has been making progress for some years now in many areas of technology. He does not run fast, but achieves records or results never before achieved by other nations. In the space sector, since 2003 they have been sending their astronauts, or “taikonauts”, into space with a completely autonomous program. They already have their own space station that will be expanded, and are the only ones to have sent a rover to the far side of the moon, which they aim to explore with astronauts around 2030.
Temperature five times higher than that of the Sun Now the records also come from the nuclear fusion sector, where they had already achieved important results for some time. And recently a new record has come, again from the same reactor, the HT-7U known as EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak), located in Hefei in Anhui province. It was built and coordinated by the Institute of Plasma Physics, one of the bodies of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These are experiments carried out to know and learn to control energies of this type, because even if progress is encouraging we are still far from the possibility of exploiting nuclear fusion to generate electricity to be fed into the grid. According to the Xinhua news agency, the EAST reactor was able to keep the plasma stable at high temperatures for 1,056 seconds (17.6 minutes). Hence, 5 times greater than that of the Sun. This is a notable increase from the previous record which reached 101 seconds in the middle of last year. Its operation is based on deuterium, a stable isotope of hydrogen and found in abundance in nature. It was one of the great goals that scientists had set themselves. The first was to reach 1 million amperes, the second to exceed 100 million degrees Celsius, the third to last over 1000 seconds. The next attempt will try to achieve all objectives at once: “We reached a plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds in an experiment a few months ago. This time, steady-state plasma operation was sustained for 1056. seconds at a temperature close to 70 million degrees Celsius. And all this provides very important data for the operation of a fusion reactor. The road is the right one “- said researcher Gong Xianzu (researcher at ASIPP).
A new book dedicated to controlled nuclear fusion The Chinese EAST reactor and everything related to nuclear fusion, addressing all the technological and scientific problems, deals with a large book (800 pages) recently published entitled “Controlled nuclear fusion” , written by Carlo Di Leo, engineer, with the collaboration of Giorgio Lucarelli. Rich in images and files, it is partly informative and partly technical, and the publishing house “Il Delfino” published it at a rather popular price, at 29 euros: “It is not a book that encourages neither nuclear nor against” – says Carlo Di Leo, also author of many books on space exploration for IBN – “We simply explain what it is, how fusion reactors work, why they are made, where we are with research, and how they are controlled . Then, everyone gets their own idea: I consider myself one of the few and last staunch defenders of the use of nuclear energy, even if only and exclusively for peaceful uses “. “The volume examines the three main sectors” – adds the author – “magnetic confinement, inertial confinement with laser beams or subatomic particle beams, and in a more marginal way cold fusion”. Nuclear fusion remains and will continue to be an open debate. And it will be increasingly so in the near future with energy resources in short supply. That of
Chinese reactor, and others around the world, represents a technological and engineering challenge that researchers (and others) look forward to with hope. Having the ability to exploit nuclear fusion to generate energy, the proponents of controlled nuclear fusion point out, would make it possible to reduce polluting sources such as gas, hydrocarbons and coal. Part of the energy could also be used for operations to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, further reducing the problems that have been increasing for some years.
Safety and magnetic confinement It is a bit, as scientists have long said, like reproducing the Sun in the laboratory: our star burns thanks to the energy released by the nuclear fusion reactions that take place inside it. This is why many associate it with an energy source capable of covering the demand for the future of humanity. However, there remains the usual, long-standing problem that does not convince everyone. That of safety and consequently the management of high temperatures. In fact, the main problem is that of plasma confinement. Since there are no “containers” in nature that can withstand these enormous temperature conditions, another mechanism must be used: magnetic confinement. More and more advanced technology will help, but it will still be managed and coordinated by human factors. Some academics provide us with a bit of optimism: “The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was caused by a trivial human error – explains Giancarlo Genta, engineer and professor at the Polytechnic of Turin -” because of a technician who committed a inexplicable mistake. He told himself that, perhaps, he wasn’t even lucid at the moment… Same thing for the worst previous accidents. But nuclear plants are already safe today, and could be much more secure with more investment and greater confidence in technological development ”.
From Earth to space Not only terrestrial problems, certainly more urgent, but also space: “With a powerful nuclear-type space engine we would have already reached Mars” – recalls Genta, who is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics – “by reducing the trip, one way, potentially 7-8 months to 3 months. The projects were already underway, and in the seventies NASA was developing highly reliable space engines, tested in Nevada, which, moreover, would only work once launched into space. But the project, behind which there was also the advice of Werner von Braun, the man who brought man to the moon with his rockets, and who thanks to those projects planned human missions to Mars, was canceled, for reasons policies rather than financial “. “The possibility of interplanetary travel, while still far from hypothesized solutions, is certainly one of the greatest technological challenges that await us” – adds the engineer Michele Di Lecce, who edited the preface of Di Leo’s book – “but the search for new energy sources that safeguard and expand the well-being of humanity without increasing the environmental problems already underway is even more important “.
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