China and U.S. scientists collaborate to overcome key challenges in nuclear fusion energy

The international team, in experiments conducted at the DIII-D tokamak facility in San Diego, has developed a new operating method that allows the plasma density to reach around 20% above the critical Greenwald density limit for over 2 seconds.

In a groundbreaking development, scientists from China and the United States have overcome two major challenges in making nuclear fusion energy economically viable using tokamak reactors. The findings, published in the prestigious journal Nature, represent a significant step towards harnessing the immense power of fusion – the same process that powers the sun.

Tokamak reactors, with their doughnut-shaped design, have long been considered one of the most promising approaches to achieving controlled fusion reactions. However, researchers have grappled with maintaining the necessary high plasma density and confinement quality required for commercial fusion energy production.

The international team, in experiments conducted at the DIII-D tokamak facility in San Diego, has developed a new operating method that allows the plasma density to reach around 20% above the critical Greenwald density limit for over 2 seconds. This breakthrough was achieved by creating a density gradient, where the plasma density at the core is higher than at the edges, enabling greater stability.

Remarkably, the researchers also demonstrated that their method could achieve energy confinement quality around 50% better than the standard “high-confinement mode” – another crucial requirement for economically viable fusion reactors.

“The operating regime we report supports some critical requirements in many fusion reactor designs all over the world and opens a potential avenue to an operating point for producing economically attractive fusion energy,” the researchers stated in their paper.

If successfully scaled up, this advancement could pave the way for fusion power plants that provide a virtually inexhaustible source of clean energy, without generating long-lasting radioactive waste or contributing to climate change.

How will it help?

The quest for commercially viable fusion energy has been a long-standing goal for scientists and policymakers alike. Success in this endeavour would revolutionize the global energy landscape, offering a safe, sustainable, and virtually limitless power source. Here’s how this breakthrough could help:

Fusion reactors don’t produce greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels and current nuclear fission reactors. With fusion fuel derived from abundant sources like seawater, fusion could help reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and ensure energy security for nations around the world. Unlike intermittent renewable sources like solar and wind, fusion reactors could provide a constant, reliable baseload power supply to meet the world’s ever-growing energy demands. Moreover, the development of fusion technology could spur innovation, create new industries, and generate economic opportunities in various sectors, from manufacturing to research and development.

While challenges remain, this latest advancement brings the dream of commercially viable fusion energy a step closer to reality. As the world grapples with the dual challenges of meeting energy demands and mitigating climate change, the successful harnessing of fusion could be a game-changer for the future of energy production.