China´s new generation fusion device, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), is due to begin operating this summer. After successfully passing its commissioning tests this spring, when EAST was subject to complex pumping, cooling and energizing experiments, the first plasma discharge tests are due to take place in July/August this year. “This will be a major move for China to tap the clean energy from nuclear fusion”, Jiangang Li, Head of the Institute of Plasma Physics and leader of the EAST-Project, said. “Once successful in the discharge tests, EAST will be the first fully superconducting experimental Tokamak fusion device ever put into operation in the world.”

More than 70 % of China´s electricity is currently supplied by coal. But as the country´s energy demand rises, it is eagerly looking towards nuclear as a less polluting energy-source. In addition to the 32 new fission plants that China plans to build within the next 15 years, the country has a keen interest in fusion as an energy source in the longer term. China joined the ITER project in 2003.

EAST is to confine the plasma in a tokamak using superconducting magnets which makes the project an important testbed for ITER. Superconducting-coil technology has only been used in a deuterium-deuterium plasma experiment, including the TRIAM-1M tokamak and the Large Helical Device (LHD), both built in Japan, and the largest operating superconducting device in the world so far, the Tore Supra tokamak at Cadarache in France with a radius of 2.4 m, but equipped with superconducting toroidal field coils only.

According to Li, EAST can create plasma with a temperature between 50 and 100 million degrees Celsius with a duration of 1000 seconds, producing an expected plasma current of 1 MA. During the commissioning, a total of 260 shots were made with the magnetic coils energized. The longest toroidal field (TF) current duration was 5000 seconds and the highest toroidal field current measured, corresponding to a central magnetic field of two Tesla, was 8200A. So far the world´s leading fusion devices produce pulses of roughly ten seconds, but of higher power levels. Only a few devices have achieved longer pulses, as for example the Tore Supra tokamak at Cadarache and Triam in Kasuga, Japan. Tore Supra produced pulses with a duration of 400 seconds and a current of 500 kA, whereas TRIAM has produced plasma pulses of 316 minutes with 16 kA.