Although China is part of the multinational ITER project (see previous post),  it is not putting all of its chips there.  China is also starting its own nuclear fusion program with the intent of constructing an experimental fusion reactor.

While China funds 10% of the ITER budget, it only supplies 5% of the scientists. Moreover, they work in only 11 of the 34 core scientific, engineering and management areas.  To overcome this knowledge shortage, China announced recently that it is going to train 2000 fusion experts over the next decade to beef up its research and development of magnetic confinement fusion (MCF).  MCF seeks to use magnetic fields to create the high-pressure conditions necessary for fusing hydrogen atoms into helium and producing enormous quantities of heat and light.  (See Wall Street Journal: China cranks up heat on nuclear fusion)

China is also responding to the safety concerns about existing fission reactors in light of Japan’s Fukushima tragedy.  Fusion does not produce the radioactive waste of current reactors.

“Due to the problems in Japan, the Chinese government hopes nuclear fusion can be realized in the near future,” said Professor Duan Xuru, the director of fusion science at the Southwestern Institute of Physics.  “Actually, the concept of nuclear fusion is very simple, The first thing is to generate the plasma. The second thing is to heat the plasma to a few hundred million degrees. And then you need to confine it with magnets.  The devil of course is in the details.  I believe we will have a fusion power plant within fifty years, but I don’t know if I will still be here to see it.”

One Chinese official recently noted:  “The Japan accident could be good for China.  It will force China to move forward technologically and pay even more attention to safety. But it will also lead to a bigger slowdown in nuclear development in other countries. China can really gain the upper hand.”

Currently China is adding one new coal power plant to the electric grid every week.  The government has identified nuclear power as a crucial part of the need to reduce dependence on coal and to boost energy supplies in poor and polluted interior regions.  Moreover, as China searches every part of the planet for the scarce resources needed to meet the energy demands of 1.3 billion people, nuclear is seen as fundamental.

Jiangang Li, Professor at the Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei and one of the leading fusion scientists in China, last week told the 24th Symposium on Fusion Energy (SOFE) in Chicago that he is convinced that within the next 20 years an electricity-producing pilot plant can be built.


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1 Comment on The Long Road to Fusion: China Rushing to the Future

  1. Carley says:

    Ah yes, nicely put,