Over 100 scientists conduct joint physics experiments with ITER

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), also called the ‘Chinese artificial sun,’ garners attention as over 100 scientists conduct joint physics experiments with ITER to progress nuclear fusion.

Amidst the festive buzz of the upcoming Chinese New Year, a unique island in Hefei, Anhui Province, is making headlines not for fireworks but for the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), also known as the “Chinese artificial sun.” Over 100 Chinese and foreign scientists recently conducted joint physics experiments on Science Island to address technical challenges for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.

EAST’s ultimate goal is to achieve nuclear fusion, mimicking the sun’s process, and providing a clean and abundant source of energy using sea-abundant substances. In 2023, the ITER organization decided to change ITER’s wall material from beryllium to tungsten, a move expected to reduce tritium retention and dust production. EAST, having set world records in nuclear fusion energy research, was chosen to collaborate with ITER and optimize the new plans.

The joint experiments aim to verify the reliability and operability of the new material, with Alberto Loarte, head of the ITER Science Division, emphasizing the importance of faster progression. The EAST team has already completed the replacement of the vacuum chamber’s wall materials, and with over 30 ITER researchers on-site since mid-January, the experiments are in full swing.

China, the seventh ITER member since 2006, plays a significant role in the program, undertaking nearly 10 per cent of the procurement packages. The Institute of Plasma Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences leads the Chinese mission.

Gong Xianzu, head of the Division of EAST Physics and Experimental Operations, highlights the extensive international collaboration, with over 100 people from the team engaging in joint research with ITER headquarters annually. EAST’s participation extends to communication and cooperation with more than 120 research institutions in over 50 countries, fostering a global exchange of advanced technology experiences.

Richard Pitts, leader of ITER’s Experiments and Plasma Operation Section, acknowledges the vital role of young professionals involved in the project, emphasizing that fusion needs such enthusiasm. He sees ITER as a foundational project uniting nations, with China exemplifying successful collaboration.

As EAST conducts these groundbreaking experiments, it not only contributes to ITER’s mission but also positions itself as a learning ground for China’s future experimental reactors. The “Chinese artificial sun” stands at the forefront of nuclear fusion research, showcasing the nation’s commitment to innovative energy solutions.

In the realm of cutting-edge technology and international collaboration, EAST’s endeavours during the Chinese New Year signify a promising stride toward realizing sustainable and clean energy sources on a global scale.