Image Credit: Institute of Plasma Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences
To put that in perspective, the temperature at the core of the actual Sun is said to be about 15 million degrees Celsius, making the plasma in China's artificial Sun more than six times hotter than the original. While current nuclear power plants rely on nuclear fission - a chain reaction where uranium atoms are split to release energy - nuclear fusion effectively does the opposite by forcing atoms to merge. One way of achieving this on Earth is by using what's known as a tokamak, a device designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs naturally in the Sun and stars to generate energy.
The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for about 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible, according to China's Institute of Plasma Physics.
The achievement by EAST will be important to the development of the next major experiment in global nuclear fusion science: the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Currently being built in southern France with collaboration from 35 nations including China, ITER is set to be the first experimental fusion device to produce net energy, producing 10 times more energy than the power required to run it, according to the project website. While ITER is only an experimental facility and will not harness the fusion energy to create electricity, if successful it could pave the way for future nuclear fusion plants. As EAST has a similar design to ITER but on a far smaller scale, it is likely to be an important testing device during the development of ITER, according to China's Institute of Plasma Physics. ITER is expected to be ready to create its first plasma and begin operations in 2025.