Category Archives: China

Road Map of Chinese Fusion Research and the First Chinese Fusion Reactor- CFETR

Yuanxi Wan

University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, China
Institute of Plasma Physics, CAS Hefei, China
E-mail: wanyx@ipp.ac.cn or wanxy@ustc.edu.cn

30th April – 2nd May 2013
Physikzentrum Bad Honnef, Germany

531st Wilhelm and Else Heraeus Seminar on 3D versus 2D in Hot Plasmas

This presentation discusses the Chinese need for fusion and other types of energy, current projects and requirements, the government support for fusion and fission power generation, and two proposed Chinese fusion projects, along with a discussion of China’s participation in ITER.

Download the presentation as a PDF

China spends big on nuclear fusion as French plan falls behind

newscientist.com 23 July 2015

China’s will be bigger and better (Image: David Parker/SPL)

The world’s largest nuclear fusion machine, currently being built in France, is unlikely to produce more energy than it consumes until the early 2030s, warned the UK’s head of fusion research this week. That is five years later than planned – by which time China could be ahead of everyone.

Nuclear fusion involves heating a plasma of hydrogen isotopes so that they fuse into helium, releasing a large amount of energy in the process. Many physicists see it as the holy grail for producing cheap zero-carbon energy. But initiating the fusion reactions requires temperatures 10 times as hot as the core of the sun. And decades of experiments have yet to produce self-sustaining fusion reactions – known as “burning plasma” – that generate the energy required to produce such temperatures.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a $20 billion machine being built in Cadarache, France, should get there. “We are confident that it will,” Steven Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, told the science and technology committee of the UK’s House of Lords on Tuesday. But it is taking time and money.

Burning plasma
Constructing ITER has already cost three times as much as budgeted, and completion has slipped from 2016 to 2019, with the first plasma experiments the following year. Cowley told the committee: “ITER says 2020, but I believe the first plasma will be [generated] in 2025.” Burning plasma is unlikely before “the early 2030s”, he said. He likened the moment when burning plasma is achieved to the moment in the early 1940s when the first “critical” nuclear fission reactions were produced.

Only then will the international researchers, many of whom have been working together for decades, move on to building a new plant that could generate continuous power – the forerunner for what they hope will be commercial nuclear fusion by late in the century. “But the biggest investment now is in China,” says Cowley. China is a collaborator on ITER, along with the European Union, the US and others. But it is investing heavily in building its own reactor, the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor, which will be bigger than ITER and may be finished by 2030, he said.

Cowley disclosed that some partners had discussed whether to continue collaboration with China or shut them out. “We decided to continue to collaborate.” Shutting China out “would only slow them down by a few months”, he told the Lords, who are investigating whether the UK government is getting value for money in its fusion investments. Fusion currently accounts for 14 per cent of UK government spending on energy research, Sharon Ellis of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told the committee.

How China hopes to solve nuclear waste issue with hybrid fusion-fission reactor at top secret facility

South China Morning Post Stephen Chen 17 July, 2015

China’s proposed hybrid nuclear fusion-fission reactor could potentially burn nuclear waste. Photo: AFP

China will build a new hybrid reactor that can burn nuclear waste via a combined fusion-fission method by 2030.

This could give a potentially dramatic boost to China’s attempt to switch to more environmentally friendly energy production methods, by recycling the waste produced by traditional nuclear plants into more electricity.

Traditional nuclear power plants produce large amounts of waste, the primary component in which is uranium-238, which cannot be used by current fissile-based reactors. The proposed hybrid reactor will use nuclear fusion to burn u-238 and could in theory recycle the waste from traditional reactors into new fuel.

The project is being developed at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics in Sichuan, a top secret military research facility where China’s nuclear weapons are developed.

The scheme was first reported by the Science and Technology Daily, a newspaper run by the official Ministry of Science and Technology.

A viable fusion reactor is nowhere in sight, not to mention a hybrid. It’s like talking about hybrid cars before the internal combustion engine was invented.
TSINGHUA UNIVERSITY SCIENTIST

Fission, which occurs in all commercial reactors nowadays, splits an atom in half, while fusion merges two atoms in one.

Both processes can release enormous amounts of energy, but neither method is perfect. Fission can generate large amounts of radioactive waste, while fusion requires a tremendous amount of energy to get going and control.

China is not the only nation engaging in fusion-fission hybrids. The idea to combine nuclear fusion and fission in one reactor had been around for at least half a century. Relevant research has been carried out in Russia, European countries, the United States and Japan.

But China is currently the only country with a clear schedule to build a hybrid reactor.

One of China’s nuclear power plants in Changchun in northeastern Jilin province. Photo: AP

The plan is part of Beijing’s ambitious campaign to replace dirty fuels such as coal with cleaner energy sources. Currently 24 reactors are under construction in mainland China, adding to 26 already in operation and many more in the planning stage.

Due to the lacking of recycling plants, most of the waste they produce is stored on site inside the plants, which increases operational and environmental risks.

The hybrid reactor could also relieve China’s uranium shortages. Due to their low quality reserves, uranium mines in China can only meet the demand for China’s nuclear industry for a century, but if the hybrid was built, China would have no need to import uranium for several thousand years, according to the report.

At the core of the proposed hybrid plant is a fusion reactor which is powered by electric currents as strong as 60 trillion amps. The reactor will be blanketed by a fission shell stuffed with uranium-238.

Such a design has numerous advantages. The high-speed neutrons generated by fusion could split apart the u-238 atoms to generate fission, and the fission could generate lots of energy to help maintain the fusion, thus significantly reducing the amount of external energy input, and achieve the complete burning of nuclear fuel to avoid radioactive waste.

Professor Wang Hongwen, deputy director of the hybrid reactor project, said that the key components will be built and tested around 2020, with an experimental reactor due to be finished by 2030.

The team said the proposed hybrid reactor could generate three times the power of a current fission reactor, while being safer as both fusion and fission reactions could be stopped immediately by cutting off external power, so disasters are less likely.

Some scientists warned that the timeline may be too ambitious however.

“A viable fusion reactor is nowhere in sight, not to mention a hybrid,” said a physicist with Tsinghua University, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“It’s like talking about hybrid cars before the internal combustion engine was even invented. We will be lucky to have the first fusion reactor in 50 years. I don’t think a hybrid can be built way before that.”

Others are more optimistic about the technology. Professor Evgeny Velikhov, the “godfather” of modern fusion reactor design, has long been an advocate of the hybrid approach.

A hybrid reactor could be easier to build partly because it requires only a fifth of the external energy input of a “pure fusion” reactor to maintain operation, he said in 2012 during a visit to the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor project in France.

China completes large nuclear fusion device, says it is catching up with US

China Daily Mail BY CHANKAIYEE2 ⋅ APRIL 18, 2015

China’s new nuclear fusion device

The following is based on translations from Chinese media:

Nuclear fusion is at the forefront of high technology. It will enable the human race to generate more than enough energy without using fossil fuel

However, it is very difficult to control such fusion. As a result, for several decades, scientists always say that we, the human race, are 25 years away from the era when we are able to control nuclear fusion.

In the past, the competition in the race to achieve controlled nuclear fusion was between the US and the Soviet Union, but now it is between the US and China, as China has become the second largest investor in that technology.

Now the US has 28 large nuclear fusion test facilities, China has 16 while Russia has only 5.

According to Chinese media qianzhan.com, China is completing its newest large nuclear fusion test device KTX and will soon put it into experimental operation for fine tuning.

It is a Torus Experiment device similar to US “National Spherical Ring Experiment Device” with magnetic confinement fusion technology. KTX is China’s newest achievement in nuclear fusion similar to the afore-mentioned advanced device that the US put into operation in 1999.

China’s success in building its FTX indicates that China has greatly reduced the gap between the US and China in that type of technology.

Source: qianzhan.com “China completes its large nuclear fusion device to keep on reducing the gap between it and the US” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)

America’s Fusion Race With China Is Heating Up, So Why Is Washington Going Cold?

The DBrief FEBRUARY 14, 2014 BY PATRICK TUCKER

LLNL fusion reactor

Researchers with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California recently announced a major step forward in pursuit of the so-called holy grail of energy: fusion.

Fusion in this case refers to merging two atoms into a single, heavier atom. In bonding, excess energy from the atoms is released, and if the amount released is higher than the amount that hit the two particles to merge them, the result is fusion energy. This is what researcher Omar Hurricane and his colleagues successfully demonstrated, via laser, at the lab’s National Ignition Facility, or NIF, last August. On Wednesday, the team published their findings in the journal Nature, making it official.

Houston, we have fusion.

That doesn’t mean that we have the sort of fusion unlocked by Elizabeth Shue in the action movie The Saint. By zapping a few hydrogen atoms with 500 terawatts (a terawatt is a trillion watts) of energy through an array of 192 lasers for less than a nanosecond, the researchers got twice as much energy out of the atoms as hit them. But only about 10 percent of the energy used in the experiment actually hit the hydrogen. So, from an energy perspective, the experiment was still a loss. It does, however, suggest that researchers one day will conduct a fusion test where the reactor is able to sustainably make more energy than is lost in the attempt. This is called ignition and remains some ways off. Regardless, the breakthrough at the NIF is a big step forward in showing that fusion is a viable energy for the future.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this puts the U.S. in the lead in the fusion race. In fact, U.S. dominance in fusion research is hardly guaranteed, even after Hurricane’s achievement.

First, there are actually two types of fusion: inertial and magnetic. Hurricane’s paper demonstrating fusion with lasers involves the inertial type. The other type of fusion, also called magnetic confinement fusion, uses hot gas encased in a giant ring to squish atoms together to produce energy. While the U.S. has several ongoing magnetic fusion projects, so do many other countries. And China hosts one of the most significant magnetic fusion centers in the world, the HT-7 Tokamak facility in the city if Hefei.

Nuclear energy breakthroughs can’t be patented, thanks to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Atoms for Peace program that emerged under President Dwight Eisenhower. So we don’t have to worry about one nation getting an exclusive on fusion. But without public investment, we won’t be able take advantage of new knowledge that’s being created around the world, and that will put us in a very weak position vis-a-vis China, according to experts.

“They’re investing. They’ve really been very diligent in pursuing next generation energy technologies with consistent support, as opposed to what you’re seeing in the U.S., which is difficulty maintaining consistent effort moving forward because of budget variability,” said Paul Roege, program manager at Idaho National Laboratory and a retired Army colonel. China has contributed $2.1 billion to a $21 billion international project called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and is also spending more internally.

“The Chinese are training 2,000 scientists to take advantage of the gains in international research [into fusion],” Andrew Holland of the American Security Project said. “Similar things are happening in Russia and South Korea. The U.S. is very much in danger of being left behind.”

Holland rejects the argument that U.S. dominance in inertial (laser) fusion means that we can abandon research into the magnetic kind. The science is too young. “We can’t afford not to walk and chew gum at the same time. The size of the global energy market shows that there’s room for both types of reactors.”

But the U.S. is also in danger of losing its lead in laser-based fusion, too. This week’s big success aside, NIF in recent years is considered a facility under constant threat of budget cuts, especially after the formal program to which the ignition goal was attached — the National Ignition Campaign — expired in 2012. NIF failed to demonstrate fusion soon enough for lawmakers.

Here’s how the House Armed Services Committee put it in their report to accompany the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act:

The committee understands that achieving self-sustained thermonuclear fusion in a laboratory setting is a difficult undertaking and believes that achieving ignition at NIF would be a tremendously valuable and historic accomplishment. However, the committee is concerned that, should ignition not be achieved by the end of fiscal year 2012, the fiscal year 2013 budget request would continue an aggressive pace for ignition experiments at NIF even though the NIC [National Ignition Campaign] itself will be concluded.”

The belief was that the NIF shouldn’t be wasting taxpayer money chasing the unicorn of fusion. Instead, researchers should focus on the more pedestrian task for which the facility was designed: running simulations to measure the health of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. President Barack Obama’s most recent budget also spelled out big cuts for the facility, from $383 million in 2013 to “not less than $329 million” in fiscal 2014.

Cutting NIF’s ability to continue ambitious research into ignition would be “shortsighted,” Holland said. “That would cause us to lose our lead.” To fix this problem, he says the U.S. needs a fusion energy program that handles both magnetic and inertial research within the Department of Energy.

It’s an issue with national security implications. The amount of fossil fuel the military uses to power ships and bases is a strategic disadvantage the Pentagon is trying to change. The military uses 20 times more fuel than it did during World War II, even though there are 20 times fewer boots on the ground, by Roege’s calculation. It’s not just about the long war, or even the cost of fuel requirements. Fuel resupply lines are an Achilles’ heel for most armies. Fusion will never be small enough to power a tank, but could conceivably be made small enough to power a ship or forward operating base.

Of course, the old joke about fusion power is that it’s always 50 years away. Hoffman, in a paper for the American Security Project, argues that researchers should be able to demonstrate ignition in just 10 years and commercial viability in 20. That forecast might be optimistic, but the breakthrough published in Nature this week shows that it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility. If that goal is reachable, someone, somewhere, will get there.

The estimated price tag for U.S. taxpayers to win the fusion race: $30 billion.

China is going to mine the Moon for helium-3 fusion fuel

extremetech.com By John Hewitt on January 26, 2015

China’s Chang’e lunar probe dynasty is already having a great year. The Chang’e 3 lunar lander surpassed all expectations last week to emerge from its 14th hibernation while the Chang’e 5-T1 just completed its transfer from the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2 into a stable orbit around the Moon. Chang’e 3’s main mission was only to take spectrographic and ground penetrating radar measurements, but the Chang’e 5 missions will bring back the first samples containing the actual prize — fusion-ready helium-3.

One of the main reasons helium-3 is sought as a fusion fuel is because there are no neutrons generated as a reaction product. The protons that do get generated have charge, and can therefore be safely contained using electromagnetic fields. Early dreamers imagined that Saturn or Jupiter would be the ideal places to try and get their hands on some helium-3, but it now appears that the Chinese have set their sights on the Moon.

Although the Sun dispenses ample amounts of helium-3 wherever it blows, the Earth is largely shielded from this windfall by its own magnetic field. The little we do have is mostly generated by various terrestrial processes like cosmic ray bombardment and even relic sources from leftover nuclear warheads. The Moon, on the other hand, is a far more concentrated depot with up to five million tons conveniently embedded in its top surface layer.

If you are thinking that panning the entire surface of the Moon might not be a sound business model, consider that helium-3 would probably not be the only payoff expected. Just as extraction of rare earth metals on our own planet is often piggybacked on a larger iron ore harvest, the Moon would offer a lot in the way of other primary raw materials like, for example, titanium.

While the West might justify its own inaction on the helium-3 front in terms of old space treaties or lunar conservation, excuses like this are probably laughable to a country like China who now actually is going and getting their own lunar helium-3. The real hurdles they face are not the bureaucratic red tape or even the logistics of a mass space and mining effort, but rather the physics of helium-3 fusion itself. In other words, is helium-3 necessarily the best way to do fusion?

There are a couple of possibilities for helium fusion here. If you can excuse the jargon for a moment, the temperatures required for a 21H (hydrogen) plus 32He (helium) reaction are significantly higher than conventional deuterium-tritium fusion. This process can still result in a few of those pesky neutrons so it may not be ideal. The alternative reaction, fusion of 32He with itself requires even higher temperatures to overcome the double positive charges on each helium. It therefore remains to be seen what is the best path forward in fusion. Other issues like how best to extract the energy once generated also loom. For example, it may be advantageous to directly drive electrical turbomachinery using charged protons without any heat conversion — although the claimed efficiencies of 70% would need to be fully vetted.

One thing we do know is that we need more helium-3 now. Our own DHS, for example, had hoped to detect the telltale neutron emissions of plutonium smuggled in shipping containers, but it was stalled for the lack of an affordable helium-3 source in our post-nuclear weapons economy. Getting this precious helium from the Moon will undoubtedly be difficult. The realization that it will take significant manpower — actual boots on the lunar surface — I think for now is inescapable in planning future missions. Mining, even if it is barely subsurface, will always be risky. Robots will have their place for sure, but they can not replace our versatility on the moon if they cannot even replace men at mines here.

Nuclear fusion: an answer to China’s energy problems?

China Dialog Olivia Boyd 12.2.2013

China could lead the way to a clean and boundless energy supply – if it can ever be made to work. Scientist Steven Cowley talks to chinadialogue.

A nuclear fusion display in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Fusion could one day meet 25% of the world’s energy needs, says Steven Cowley. (Image by kpfellows)

The global nuclear sector has been through something of an apocalyptic patch since the disaster at Fukushima – from power station shutdowns in Japan and Germany to waste-plan chaos in the UK to doubts about China’s ability to showcase new reactor designs.

But not everything is grinding to a halt. Research into nuclear fusion, as opposed to the atom-splitting fission technology which powers our conventional nuclear power stations, maintains momentum. While sceptics joke that a breakthrough for the long-awaited miracle technology is always 30 years away, advocates argue we are inching closer to a clean and almost boundless energy source.

Fusion essentially creates the sun’s reactions on earth, using temperatures of 200 million degrees Celsius to get atoms derived from seawater to fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. Britain, currently home to the only machine in the world that can actually do this (though it doesn’t produce electricity), is stepping up collaboration with one partner in particular: China.

Steven Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, is Britain’s leading fusion scientist. He recently completed a tour of China, visiting Chengdu and Hefei – the country’s two centres of nuclear fusion research – and holding talks with Chinese counterparts about building a closer partnership. Possible moves include bringing Chinese scientists to work on fusion experiments in the UK. Cowley even looks forward to a future with “Anglo-Chinese fusion reactors”.

With his physics-teacher enthusiasm (“I don’t have to wake up in the morning and say will this be fun today? It’s fun every day.”) Cowley is a good front man for the cause. He shrugs off a common line of attack from sceptics that 50 years of trying shows fusion is a dead-end path. “I’m a technical person. I look at the technical things and ask why isn’t it working now and what would we need to do to make it work in the future? I don’t look at the history of the project and say it’s taken us 50 years to get here. It took us 3,000 years to get flight.”

Nuclear fusion the “only option” for China

Cosying up to China could prove a deft move. From the US to South Korea, countries around the world are investing in fusion, but China in particular is throwing resources at the problem. Every year, it brings hundreds of new PhD students into the ranks of fusion scientists, and is seen as the best bet to house the world’s first electricity-producing reactor.

“It’s a stark thing for China,” says Cowley. “There aren’t really any options to power an economy of that size into the second half of the century, except burning vast quantities of fossil fuels, which we all know will not be good for the world.”

Conventional nuclear power is limited by the fact the world’s uranium stocks may run out in a couple of hundred years. Fusion on the other hand gets its fuels, deuterium and lithium, from seawater – not only in plentiful supply but easily accessed, a definite bonus for an increasingly energy-insecure China. Moreover, fusion produces no significant waste. Against the background of a global struggle to dispose of toxic waste piles, this is a weighty advantage.

“For an economy the size of China’s, especially the size it will be in three decades, fusion is really the only thing I think you can slip in without producing a long-term legacy of what you’ve done, whether that’s massive CO2 build up, or a lot of nuclear waste to store,” says Cowley.

China to leapfrog Europe?

Today, the world has only one operational fusion experiment capable of producing fusion energy: the Joint European Torus, or JET, in England. That won’t be the case for long. A multinational effort to build a demonstration fusion reactor in the south of France, the ITER project – though currently a US$19 billion hole in the ground – is expected to start experiments in the mid 2020s. Its backers hope it will be the first fusion experiment to produce more power than it consumes.

In the longer term, the focus is likely to move eastward. China and South Korea, both partners in ITER, have plans to press ahead with their own demonstration projects immediately after completing the European scheme. Having footed the lion’s share of the bill for ITER – 45% of the cost as against China’s 9% – Europe could find itself left behind. But does it matter who succeeds first?

Cowley is not convinced it does. “Fusion is the perfect way to make energy, except for one thing – it’s very hard to do. So let’s just get it going and get it on the road,” he says. “If China solves the fusion problem and is the first country to produce fusion power stations and these solve the problem of China’s emissions, that’s a big step. That would help us all.”

This kind of camaraderie could dissipate, however, if fusion were to move out of the bounds of a relatively narrow scientific community and into a multi-trillion dollar industry. That’s why Europe must keep pushing ahead, says Cowley. “The world energy market is at US$6-7 trillion a year. If you have a method to supply 25% of it, talk about a business! So it’s really worth thinking now how you’re going to make sure Europe is a player when fusion is a part of the economy.”

China’s energy needs

Such hopes and fears rest on the assumption that fusion will actually happen at scale. This is far from certain. The question is not whether creating fusion reactions on earth is possible (that’s been clear since JET produced the equivalent of 16 windmills’ worth of power in 1997) but whether the reactions can be sustained, produce more energy than they consume, and at low enough prices to compete with other power sources. Other critical questions remain unanswered – like what material reactor walls should be made out of so they don’t have to be replaced every couple of years.

Progress is complicated by the international nature of the endeavour. At ITER, the need to accommodate the wishes of six countries plus the European Union has created inefficiencies. The vacuum vessel, a component of the reactor, is being part built in Korea, part built in Europe, for instance, because both want a role in production. Delays and lengthy design reviews have seen the estimated cost of the project triple since 2006 and the timetable slip by four years. Many argue the world would be better off ploughing the funds into alternatives.

China is of course exploring other avenues, including Pebble Bed Module Reactors, another nuclear technology long hailed as the perfect energy source, and thorium – an effort being led by the son of former president Jiang Zemin with a start-up budget of US$350 million and 140 researchers. Outside of the nuclear sphere, shale gas has the potential to transform the domestic energy market.

“China has lots of cash and lots of educated people and I don’t think they’re going to leave any stone unturned in the search for a long-term stable fuel supply,” says Cowley. “Because otherwise, Chinese growth will come to a shuddering halt, and similarly everywhere else.”