In the ongoing battle for technology supremacy, China has fired the latest shot. And if their new project lives up to its name, it just may be a gamebreaker. Here is the full story.
An “Artificial Sun”
Scientists in China are busy building the country’s largest nuclear fusion research facility, according to a report from Xinhua, a state news agency.
Their goal is nothing less than to create a small but powerful “artificial sun.” In fact, the codename for the project is Kuafu, and it has some big shoes to fill.
The character of Kuafu looms large in Chinese mythology for his determination to save the world.
As the story goes, he decided to snatch the sun from the sky to salvage his people from killer heat and drought.
And so Kuafu set off across the earth, chasing the sun. But as he drew closer and closer, he became more and more overheated.
Bringing a Legend Alive
Eventually, even though he drank entire rivers and lakes, Kuafu died from dehydration.
Despite ultimately failing in his mission to capture the sun, Kuafu is a hugely heroic character in Chinese folklore. After all, he sacrificed everything for his tribe.
Now, drawing on Kuafu’s larger-than-life legend, scientists working on the new fusion facility have some lofty goals of their own.
Officially named Comprehensive Research Facility for Fusion Technology (CRAFT), the ultimate goal is to literally replicate the power of the sun here on Earth.
A Ball of Energy
That may sound impossible, but scientists have long pointed to nuclear fusion as a potential final solution for the earth’s dependence on carbon-based fuels.
In fusion, two lightweight nuclei are “collided” to form a single heavier nucleus. The process emits a huge ball of energy that could be used to power human life if properly harnessed.
That’s always been the tricky part of fusion, though, because it typically occurs at very high temperatures that make it hard to deal with safely.
And the colliders are huge apparatuses that require miles of space.
No Greenhouse Gases Produced
But if those challenges can be overcome, fusion could be a nearly perfect energy source. Unlike fossil fuels, fusion produces no greenhouse gases.
And fusion doesn’t come with the risk of a nuclear meltdown like today’s fission reactors do.
China is well positioned to advance the study and potential use of fusion since they already have the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in operation.
EAST is a superconducting facility that has managed to confine plasma at very high temperatures using magnetic fields.
Researchers there have also made several fusion-based breakthroughs.
Chinese Fusion Engineering Test Reactor
Both EAST and the Kuafu are in the province of Anhui, so it’s not hard to imagine a rapid ramp-up for the new facility. The existing brainpower is just down the road, after all.
If all goes as planned, according to Xinhua, Kuafu will help scientists deploy the Chinese Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) by 2035.
That reactor is touted as being capable of large-scale energy production via fusion.
So, as the modern Kuafu ramps up its own pursuit of the sun, there is big hope in China that the project meets a much happier fate than its namesake did.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff