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Astronomy

Chinese ‘sun’: What the device is, how it will work

It’s a device that aims at harnessing that part of the natural sun’s energy that does not make it to the earth

Adding a new chapter to its constant challenge thrown at the developed world of the US, Russia and Japan in terms of science and technology, China is reported to be building its own ‘sun’. The device is aimed at generating pure energy just like the real sun does, which can be controlled by the extent of chain reaction the Chinese scientists would permit in the nuclear fusion.

This is a project of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). With Chinese scientists saying they will complete the project by 2020, news agency Xinhua has reported that the installation of the artificial sun HL 2M will start in the coming days.

According to the Chinese news agency, this artificial sun will generate 10 times more clean energy with the help of nuclear fusion. This artificial sun of China is made in collaboration with the National Nuclear Corporation, South Western Institute of Physics. According to the scientists participating in the project, after the launch of HL 2M, the reactor will be able to reach temperatures up to 12 times higher than that of the sun (surface temperature 5,778 K; corona temperature 5×106 K).

The idea behind HL 2M is to capture, using a space-based solar power station, the sun’s energy that does not reach the earth, Wang Li, a CAST research fellow with the programme, told Xinhua. He was attending the sixth China-Russia Engineering Forum held last week in Xiamen, southeast China’s Fujian Province.

The Chinese ‘sun’ will be a result of converting that energy to microwaves or lasers and relaying it wirelessly back to the earth surface for human consumption, Li explained. “We hope to strengthen international cooperation and make scientific and technological breakthroughs so that humankind can achieve the dream of limitless clean energy at an early date,” the scientist said.

The natural sun (which is a star) of the earth ‘burns’ 600 million tonnes of hydrogen into helium every second to produce 4 million tonnes of matter into energy every second.

The artificial sun of China will finally attain a temperature of about 2 x 108 °C.

The nuclear reaction normally used in reactors is fission which, with the same amount of matter input yields lower energy than what fusion does. Fission involves splitting, as the word literally suggests while fusion involves coming together of the sub-atomic particles of atoms of a radioactive element. The following, for example, is a fission reaction involving 235U (uranium) [Ba: Barium, Kr: Krypton].

10n + 23592U → 14156Ba + 9236Kr + 3 10n

Here are two nuclear fusion reactions showing bombardment of a lithium (Li) atom with a neutron, which produces tritium (T, an isotope of hydrogen) and helium (He):

n0 6
3Li
 
→ 3
1T
 
4
2He
 + 4.784 MeV
n0 7
3Li
 
→ 3
1T
 
4
2He
 + n0 – 2.467 MeV

“China plans to accomplish a 200-tonne megawatt-level space-based solar power station by 2035, according to the CAST,” reported the Chinese news agency.

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