In setting new records of temperature and running time in its own tokamak fusion experiment, China now leads the U.S. in the field of developing the technology for generating practical fusion energy.
[The U.S.] ITER’s target temperature is 150 million °C (270 million °F). China’s EAST facility, which is a key contributor to the ITER project, has hit this mark already, reaching 160 million °C (288 million °F) for 20 seconds, and holding 120 million °C (216 million °F) for 101 seconds in separate experiments announced last May.
The latest experiment tested the Chinese tokamak’s capability to endure extreme temperatures over longer periods, sustaining a temperature 2.6 times hotter than the Sun’s core for some 1,056 seconds, or 17 minutes and 36 seconds. Nobody’s ever sustained a high-temperature plasma for 1,000 seconds before, so this is an important milestone.
The development of this capability continues China’s effort to lead the world in all areas of research, led I think by the many high government officials in positions of great power after cutting their teeth as managers for China’s space effort. These individuals understand how to build big technology projects at the cutting edge of science, and are likely pushing for more such research in all fields, such as the experiments in fusion energy above.
As big government projects, however, the long term future of such work is very risky. Government projects like this might start out great, which describes China’s status today, but they always end up corrupt and hidebound, as seen in the Soviet Union and at NASA in the U.S.
Nonetheless, this success highlights China’s aggressive effort to lead the world in all things. We would be foolish to ignore this.