The Creators of ‘Artificial Sun’ Announce Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jul 04, 2024

Even at more than 95 million miles away, the sun is still powerful enough to provide energy for our planet. For years, scientists around the world have been working tirelessly to recreate the naturally occurring energy within the great star right here on Earth.

Finally, scientists in China have unveiled what they are calling the “artificial sun,” and it just may change absolutely everything.

Huanlui-3: The “Artificial Sun”

For years, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has been working to develop the Huanliu-3, a nuclear fusion reactor. The HL-3 is just one of many reactors being developed, but it has recently proved to be the most successful.

A photograph of several scientists working on China’s HL-3 nuclear reactor

Source: @China_Focus/X

Understanding how the HL-3 and all nuclear fusion reactors work is quite complex, but essentially, they create the power of the sun on Earth.

Understanding Nuclear Fusion

The first nuclear fusion reactor was made in 1946. Since then, humans worldwide have been trying to perfect these wildly complicated machines so that they can finally provide the world with a clean, safe and efficient energy source.

A photograph of a Tokamak nuclear reactor with a scientist inside

Source: Wikipedia

However, the task has proved even more challenging than the original scientists assumed. So far, researchers have been able to successfully create nuclear fusion, but they have yet to figure out how to do so for more than just a few minutes.

What Is Nuclear Fusion?

It’s important to understand that nuclear fusion is much different from nuclear fission. Nuclear fission involves splitting an unstable nucleus into two nuclei, whereas nuclear fusion is purposefully combining two stable nuclei.

A digital illustration of a nuclear fusion reaction

Source: Freepik

In other words, while nuclear fission is unpredictable and dangerous, nuclear fusion is intentional and, arguably, extremely safe.

Nuclear Fusion Is a Safe Way to Produce the Energy Humans Need

Nuclear fission often releases radioactive waste and causes extremely toxic air pollution, but fusion doesn’t produce either of these dangerous side effects.

A yellow sign on a chain link fence that reads “Caution Nuclear Waste Disposal Site”

Source: Freepik

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “Given that a fusion reaction could come to a halt within seconds, the process is inherently safe [and] fusion does not produce highly radioactive, long-lived nuclear waste.”

There Are Current;y 440 Nuclear Fusion Reactors on Earth

Because nuclear fusion reactors can create the energy of the sun and are widely considered to be completely safe, exactly 440 have been built in countries all over the world.

A photograph inside of a giant nuclear reactor core

Source: @BBC Studios/YouTube

Scientists in the United States, China, France and 47 other countries are working every day to finalize their reactors so that they can say they have finally found a way to provide a clear and sustainable energy source. But no one has been able to do so just yet.


The Nuclear Reactors Aren’t Ready to Produce the World’s Energy

As of June 2024, nuclear power plants provide about 10% of the world’s electricity. However, they are simply not developed enough to produce any more than that.

A nuclear power plant

Source: Department of Energy

That’s because even the brightest minds on the planet have yet to find a way to produce nuclear fusion for more than six minutes at a time. The general consensus is that nuclear fusion won’t be ready to power the world until scientists can create a safe and stable reaction for exactly 24 hours, but they are still quite far from that reality.


What Makes China’s HL-3 Reactor Different?

China’s recent announcement regarding the success of the HL-3 is especially exciting because the scientists in their lab have found a new tactic for steadily and constantly creating a fusion reaction.

A digital illustration of the super strong magnetic fields leaving an imprint on nuclear fusion


As the latest-generation nuclear reactor, the HL-3 uses an advanced magnetic confinement structure that many are calling aworld-first achievement.” Others report that this solution could “[enhance] control capacity of [all] nuclear fusion devices” and change the world as we know it.


Why Is Nuclear Fusion So Important?

The development of nuclear fusion is more important than ever before. Humans have recently realized that the energy sources we are using now are literally killing the planet we live on.

A photograph of a large factory producing extreme amounts of air pollution

Source: Freepik

The production and use of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil, release extensive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, which is directly causing climate change.


Doing Everything Possible to Reverse the Effects of Climate Change

As scientists watch the negative side effects of climate change, like global warming, extreme weather and rising sea levels, change the planet’s natural ecosystems and put all lives at risk, they are desperately searching for a way to eliminate fossil fuels completely.

A thermometer in front of a blue sky with blurry palm trees showing warm temperatures

Source: Freepik

According to many experts worldwide, nuclear power is quite possibly the best, simplest and fastest way to do so.


Not All Environmentalists Are Excited About Nuclear Fusion

It’s interesting to note that, historically, not all environmentalists believed that nuclear fusion power was the best option for replacing fossil fuels. For years, many have doubted the safety of nuclear power for the planet, believing that solar and wind power is far more sustainable.

A woman stands on a completely dried up lake during a drought

Source: Freepik

That being said, as governments have struggled to produce enough solar and wind power to supply their citizens with energy and as nuclear power becomes safer and more sustainable every day, some environmentalists are finally getting on board.


Creating an 'Artificial Sun' May Save the Planet

It’s impossible to say what the future holds. However, with China’s recent development of the “artificial sun,” more and more people agree that nuclear power may actually save the planet.

A photograph of the setting sun against an orange sky

Source: Freepik

There is still a lot of work to do to transition the planet’s energy sources from fossil fuels to nuclear fusion, but it seems that after several decades of dedicated work, we might finally be on our way to making that a reality.