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China is all about artificial celestial bodies at the moment! Just weeks after we were stunned to learn the country was creating a fake moon, we're finding out that its earth-based "sun simulator" is producing temperatures over 100 million degrees Celsius.
Now imagine for a minute if we could replace fossil fuels with our very own stars! And we’re not talking about something as commonplace as solar power, either.
This is hardcore, real-deal nuclear fusion and it's actually happening at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, also known as EAST.
EAST is a fusion reactor based in Hefei, China and it can now create temperatures more than six times as hot as the sun.
Fusion occurs when two lightweight atoms combine into a single, larger one, releasing energy in the process.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy to pull off! Like two opposing magnets, those positive atoms repel each other and resist interacting.
Stars, like our sun, have a great way of overcoming this repulsion — it's their massive size, which creates a tremendous amount of pressure in their cores.
The atoms deep inside the stellar furnace are forced closer together making them more likely to collide.
Until recently, scientists didn't think it was possible to recreate that kind of pressure here on Earth. But then China made their announcement...
But luckily, there’s another way to induce fusion — extreme temperatures. And that’s exactly what devices like EAST do. The higher the temperature, the faster the atoms move around and the more likely they are to collide.
But it's really something of a precise balancing act! If the temperature is overly hot, the atoms move too quickly and fly past each other. If it’s too cold, the atoms simply won’t move fast enough.
At 100 million degrees celsius, it's possible to force charged deuterium and tritium particles together, causing them to fuse.
Usually these particles repel each other, making fusion impossible without EAST's massive internal temperatures. Deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen and there's a plentiful supply available, both in China and the United States.
Only a few fusion experiments in the world have surpassed this milestone — and the latest one was EAST. It sustained nuclear fusion for almost 10 seconds before shutting down.
According to a recent press release, the company that owns EAST — Tokamak Energy — says it's on track to have fusion reactors online for power generation by 2030. Their stated goal for their "artificial star" is to understand nuclear fusion and one day use it as an alternative source of power on Earth.
But there are some industry insiders and political scientists that think China's artificial sun has a much more sinister purpose...
If there is to be an effective response to climate change, it will most likely emanate from China. The geopolitical motivations are clear. Renewable energy is increasingly inevitable, and whoever dominates those future markets will likely have the upper hand in other areas as well.
As some countries find themselves in climate denial or atrophy, China may well boost its power and status by becoming the global energy leader of the 21st century.
"The future isn't in coal, gas, or even in oil. It's in renewable technologies that are in their infancies and adolescence. It's only a question of who will raise and parent the power sources of tomorrow," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a 2016 press conference.
The state’s “green shift” supports this claim by striving to transition to alternative energies and become more energy efficient.
But there are material benefits President Xi failed to mention...
China’s proactive response has dramatically impacted global energy markets. Today, five of the world’s six top solar-module manufacturers, five of the largest wind turbine producers, and six of the ten major car companies committed to electrification are all Chinese-owned.
Meanwhile, China is dominant in the lithium sector – thin batteries, electric vehicles, and so on – and a global leader in smart grid investment and other renewable energy technologies.
This is only a start. There are even so-called modest projections that 20 per cent of the country’s primary energy consumption will come from non-carbon sources by 2030.
China’s sheer size means Beijing’s aggressive pursuit of emergent and expanding renewables markets cannot be ignored.
After all, controlling such markets has a strong financial benefit, but pioneering a green revolution will set the stage for China's seemingly inevitable domination of the United States in geopolitical matters...
Concerns over environmental degradation are very real in China, owing to issues such as air, food and water pollution, and those should be acknowledged.
Beijing doesn’t want food and water scarcity or smoggy skies either, whether for altruistic environmental reasons or concerns over its political legitimacy.
But it's also worth considering the serious geopolitical implications of climate change leadership. Historically the world's largest carbon emitter, the United States was once active in environmental policy, but now the current administration relentlessly denies climate change.
Having withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, President Trump has also hired climate deniers to head his environmental agencies and other offices of power...