Artificial Sun

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    In News

    • Recently, South Korean scientists created an ‘artificial sun’ in pursuit of unlimited clean energy.

    More about the news

    • About:
      • Scientists from Seoul National University and the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy have made a major breakthrough in their pursuit of clean nuclear energy by creating an ‘artificial sun’ at the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) reactor. 
      • Reportedly, the reactor reached temperatures upward of 100 million degree Celsius for 30 seconds
        • Comparatively, the core of the sun hits temperatures around 15 million degrees.
    • Previous attempts:
      • Chinese scientists have been working on developing smaller versions of the nuclear fusion reactor since 2006.
        • Recently, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion energy reactor created an artificial sun, reaching temperatures of 70 million degrees Celsius for 1,056 seconds, which is five times hotter than the sun.

    Significance

    • Energy security
      • By mimicking the natural reaction of the sun, scientists are hoping that the technology may help humanity harness vast amounts of energy and help battle the energy crisis
    • Cleaner energy:
      • It is pertinent to note that nuclear fusion is considered the holy grail of energy and it is what powers our sun. 
      • It merges atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy, which is the opposite of the fission process used in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants, which splits them into fragments.
      • The process requires no fossil fuels and leaves behind no hazardous waste materials, unlike the nuclear fission process that powers commercial nuclear energy production. 
      • Unlike fission, fusion emits no greenhouse gases.
    • Less Disaster: 
      • Physicists also claim that there is far less risk of an environmental disaster.

    Challenges

    • Keeping the temperature over 100 million degrees.
    • Operating at a stable level for a long time.
    • Nuclear fusion remains a long way from being realised outside of a laboratory, despite decades of research into the technology.

    China’s artificial Sun-EAST

    • About:
      • It is a nuclear fusion reactor facility, designed and developed by China.
      • The facility is called an “artificial sun” because it mimics the nuclear fusion reaction that powers the real sun – which uses hydrogen and deuterium gases as fuel.
      • The EAST has been used since 2006 by scientists from all around the world to conduct fusion-related experiments.
      • The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, which will become the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor when it becomes operational in 2035. 
    • Purpose:
      • To replicate the process of nuclear fusion, which is the same reaction that powers the sun.
      • Working:
        • The EAST harnesses extremely high temperatures to boil hydrogen isotopes into a plasma, fusing them together and releasing energy.
        • Fuel is heated to temperatures of over 150 million degrees C so that it forms a hot plasma “soup” of subatomic particles. 
        • With the help of a strong magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from the walls of the reactor to ensure it does not cool down and lose its potential to generate large amounts of energy. 
        • The nuclei of deuterium and tritium — both found in hydrogen — are made to fuse together to create a helium nucleus, a neutron along with a whole lot of energy.

    Way Ahead

    • Although these are significant developments, there is still a lot to go before the world is able to see a fully functioning artificial sun.

    Nuclear Fission

    Nuclear Fusion

    • Nuclear fission is the process of splitting apart nuclei (usually large nuclei). 
      • The critical mass of the substance and high-speed neutrons are required
      • Takes little energy to split two atoms in a fission reaction
    • Fission reactions do not normally occur in nature.
    • Fission produces many highly radioactive particles.
    • The energy released by fission is a million times greater than that released in chemical reactions; but lower than the energy released by nuclear fusion.
    • One class of nuclear weapons is a fission bomb, also known as an atomic bomb or atom bomb.
      • Nuclear fission is the splitting of a massive nucleus into photons in the form of gamma rays, free neutrons, and other subatomic particles. 
      • In a typical nuclear reaction involving 235U and a neutron.
    • It is the process wherein lighter atoms combine to form heavier atoms accompanied by the release of energy.
    • This process powers the Sun and other stars, whereby they generate heat and light.
    • Process: 
    • The Deuterium (H-2) and Tritium (H-3) atoms are combined to form Helium (He-4). A free and fast neutron is also released as a result.
    • The neutron is powered by the kinetic energy converted from the ‘extra’ mass left over after the combination of lighter nuclei of deuterium and tritium occurs.