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Chinese Government Approves Fusion Engineering Test Reactor

Dec. 26, 2017 (EIRNS)—The day after the Chinese central government announced it was backing the project for the next-step experimental fusion power station on Dec. 6, a competition began among cities in China to host the project, the South China Morning Post reports today. The reactor will be a follow-on to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), and scientists have been working on the design for an engineering test reactor tokamak that will solve engineering challenges of fusion, anticipating a government go-ahead.

Hefei, where the Institute of Plasma Physics hosts China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) experiment, which has been setting records in fusion research, is in the running, with officials saying they are mounting an "all out" effort to have the new reactor built there. The article reports that the days after the government approval, the Shanghai’s Communist Party secretary and the city’s mayor visited Hefei, to discuss cooperation on the project. Shanghai, researchers at Hefei said, has a large pool of scientific talent, and hoped to host the project.

Third, is Chengdu, which has played a major role in China’s nuclear weapons program, and its bid for the fusion project is backed by the military and the nuclear industry. Sichuan province is also already home to several smaller fusion experiments.

The article accurately asserts that

"with strong financial backing from the Chinese government, Chinese researchers have extended their fusion research lead over the U.S. in recent years, setting records for the longest lasting, most stable plasma and developing new technologies and materials in state-of-the-art laboratories."

The U.S. has no plan for any experiments beyond ITER, and has been shutting down operating fusion machines, for lack of funding.

According to a timetable posted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, design work will continue, and construction will start in 2021. The reactor will, therefore, be built in parallel with ITER, which is not scheduled to start its experiments with a burning plasma until four years later. This a more ambitious plan than waiting for results from ITER, and was the way the U.S. fusion program was carried out in the 1970s, when real progress was being made in the program.