China’s ‘artificial sun’ nuclear fusion reactor in Hefei has set a new world record after running at 126 million°F (70 million°C) for 1,056 seconds – more than 17 minutes. 

According to Xinhua News Agency, this record is for the longest time period of an experimental advanced supraconductingtokamak (EAST fusion fuel reactor) set in December 30.

EAST already set a previous record in May by running for 101 seconds at a higher temperature – 216 million°F (120 million°C).   

The process of nuclear fusion is where heavy hydrogen atoms are combined to create helium. This produces enormous amounts of energy and mimics the natural processes that occur in the centres of stars such as our sun. 

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How it works: This graphic shows the inside of a nuclear fusion reactor and explains the process by which power is produced. At its heart is the tokamak, a device that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine the hydrogen isotopes into a spherical shape, similar to a cored apple, as they are heated by microwaves into a plasma to produce fusion

The process of producing power: Here’s how it works. The tokamak is at the heart of the device. It uses powerful magnetism to keep the hydrogen isotopes in a spherical form. This is similar to cored apples. They are then heated using microwaves to create fusion.

Workers are pictured checking the equipment at the EAST in China's eastern Anhui province

Workers are pictured checking the equipment at the EAST in China’s eastern Anhui province


They are both nuclear processes in the sense that they use nuclear forces to alter the nucleus of atoms.

The process of fusion is the joining together of two elements with low atomic masses to form a heavier one. To cause fusion, hydrogen atoms must be placed under extreme heat and pressure to fuse.

Fission is a process that breaks down heavy elements (that have a high number of atomic masses) into smaller pieces.

Energy is released in both these cases because the total mass of the reacting and remaining nucleus nuclei is smaller than theirs. Examining the curve of binding energy per nucleon can help us understand why opposing processes release energy. The size of nuclei in reactant reactions such as fusion or fission shifts towards smaller nuclei.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

Gong Xianzu (researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of China Academy of Sciences) announced Friday that the breakthrough had been achieved. Hefei is the capital of eastern China’s Anhui Province.  

Xianzu said, quoting Xinhua, “We reached a plasma temperature at 120 million degrees Celsius in 101 seconds during an experiment in 2021’s first half.”

“This was the first time that steady-state plasma operation at temperatures close to 70,000,000 degrees Celsius was maintained for 1,056 second. This provides a strong scientific and experimental basis towards running a fusion reactor. 

EAST and other nuclear fusion reactors are centered around the tokamak. This device was first conceptualized in the 1950s, by Soviet scientists. 

Tokamak creates a strong magnetic field that confines the hydrogen isotopes in a spherical form. This shape can be compared to cored apples. 

Plasma – often referred to the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid and gas – is produced when the atoms in a gas become ionised.

Plasma refers to superheated material that is so hot that electrons have been ripped from the atoms. It forms an ionized gaz. 

China claims its reactor will replicate nuclear fusion that is naturally occurring in stars and the Sun, to produce almost unlimited clean energy.

Located in China’s eastern Anhui province and completed late 2020, the reactor is often called an ‘artificial sun’ on account of the enormous heat and power it produces.  

These fusion power plants will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The power-generation sector is the main source of these emissions.

Fusion may eventually be able to combat climate change, replacing fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases like coal and natural gas.   

Clean energy: Chinese scientists hope the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) will unlock a powerful green energy source in Beijing's quest for 'limitless clean power'

Chinese scientists are hopeful that the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, (EAST), will be able to unlock powerful green energy sources in Beijing’s pursuit for ‘limitless power’.

Fusion power works by colliding heavy hydrogen atoms to form helium - releasing vast amounts of energy in the process, as occurs naturally in the centre of stars

Fusion power occurs when heavy hydrogen atoms are combined to create helium. It releases enormous amounts of energy as it does naturally in the centre stars.

Chinese scientists will use the nuclear fusion reactor together with French scientists working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.

The ITER project, based in Provence, is scheduled to commence delivering electricity by 2035. It will then become the biggest nuclear reactor in the world.   

In the UK, Boris Johnson’s government is also planning to build a nuclear fusion power station as part of its ‘green industrial revolution’. 

Last month, the government shortlisted five sites as the potential home for the nuclear fusion reactor – Ardeer in North Ayrshire, Goole in Yorkshire, Moorside in Cumbria, Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire.

Meanwhile, the SPARC nuclear fusion reactor, a US project involving MIT, is currently in development in Devens, Massachusetts. 

South Korea also has its own ‘artificial sun’, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR), which has run at 180million°F (100million°C) for 20 seconds. 

Chinese scientists have been working on developing smaller versions of the nuclear fusion reactor since 2006. A scientist is pictured working on China's first nuclear fusion reactor

Since 2006, Chinese scientists are working to develop smaller versions of their nuclear fusion reactor. Pictured is a scientist working on China’s first nuclear-fusion reactor 

Engineers are seen working on the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak in Hefei

Engineers are seen working on the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak in Hefei

Fusion is considered the Holy Grail of energy and is what powers our Sun, which burns at roughly 27 million°F (15 million°C).

It merges atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy – the opposite of the fission process used in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants, which splits them into fragments.

Fused material is not subject to the same greenhouse gases as fission and therefore fusion has a lower risk of accident or theft.

But achieving fusion is both extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive, with the total cost of ITER estimated at $22.5 billion (£15.9 billion).  

This is because causing hydrogen isotope atoms to collide and fuse together to produce helium – the same way as the Sun creates energy – produces an enormous amount of waste heat. 

However, in May last year, scientists in Oxfordshire said they’d found a way of dealing with these exhaust gases, cooling them from an extraordinary 150 million°C to just a few hundred degrees, temperatures similar to that of a car engine. 

They developed an exhaust system – called the Super-X Divertor – that traps the helium, using a magnetic field, and then diverts it on a longer path until it is cool enough not to damage the reactor’s walls. 


The process of fusion is when a gas is heated and then separated into its constituent elements, ions and electrons. 

This involves the fusion of light elements such as hydrogen to create heavier elements such as helium. 

Hydrogen atoms must first be heated and then pressured until they fuse.

The tokamak (artist's impression) is the most developed magnetic confinement system and is the basis for the design of many modern fusion reactors. The purple at the center of the diagram shows the plasma inside 

Tokamak, or artist’s impression is the most well-developed magnetic confinement system. It is also the foundation for many modern fusion reactors. Purple in the middle of the diagram is the plasma within. 

The deuterium-tritium nuclei (which can be found within hydrogen) fuse and form a helium nuclear, a neutron, and lots of energy.

This is done by heating the fuel to temperatures in excess of 150 million°C and forming a hot plasma, a gaseous soup of subatomic particles.

Magnetic fields that are strong enough to repel the plasma from reactor walls keep it away so that the plasma doesn’t cool and lose its potential energy.

The plasma is driven by an electric current through it and superconducting coils around the vessel.

Plasma must be kept in a sufficient amount of time to allow for the formation of fusion.

The ions can collide when they get sufficiently hot and overcome mutual repulsion. 

This happens when they produce around one million more energy than chemical reactions and between three to four times as much as a standard nuclear fission reaction.