A leading scientist who organizes China's experimental controlled thermonuclear fusion said Saturday that a fusion reactor is expected to generate electricity in a commercial sense in about half a century.
Wan Yuanxi, a principal researcher and chief coordinator of the China-made experimental fusion reactor, said experiments are going on well in a national laboratory in the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei, east Anhui Province.
After joining the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) program in 2003, lab data collected from China's Experimental Advanced Super-conducting Tokamak (EAST), a fusion reaction idea bred by Russian scientists decades ago, would contribute to a global consortium for the 4.6-billion-euro ITER project.
The first successful test was conducted in late September last year at the CAS laboratory, Wan said. Since then, the facilities have been operating well.
During the experiment, deuterium and tritium atoms were forced together at a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius.
"At that temperature, the super heated plasma, which is neither a gas, a liquid nor a solid, should begin to give off its own energy," the scientist explained.
The first test lasted nearly three seconds, and generated an electrical current of 200 kiloamperes, Wan said.
The device is planned to eventually create a plasma lasting 1, 000 consecutive seconds, the longest a fusion reactor has ever run.
Thanks to fusion technology, the deuterium extracted from one liter of sea water can produce energy equivalent to that generated by burning 300 liters of gasoline, Wan said.
The EAST is an upgrade of China's first-generation Tokamak device and the first of its kind in operation in the world.
The CAS institute spent eight years and 200 million yuan (26.7 million U.S. dollars) on building the experimental reactor.
The columniform device, made with special stainless steel, is about 12 meters high and weighs 400 tons.
Unlike traditional nuclear fission reactors, which split atoms to create energy and produce dangerous radioactive waste, the EAST uses nuclear fusion to compress atoms at extremely high temperatures to generate energy that would produce very little pollution.
Scientists theorize that a fully functional fusion reactor would provide cheaper, safer, cleaner and endless energy and reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels.
The multinationally collaborated ITER, which is expected to be completed in 2016, was initiated by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Among the six partners involved in this ambitious plan, the European Union will cover 50 percent of the total budget. The remaining five, the United States, Japan, Russia, the Republic of Korea and China, will pay 10 percent each.