Another important step has been taken by Chinese researchers in developing the ultimate energy source for nuclear fusion.
On May 28, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), known as the “artificial sun”, operating at the Institute of Materials Science in Hefei (Chinese Academy of Sciences), achieved the new limit of the planet reaching the highest temperature ever recorded.
It reached one hundred and twenty million degrees Celsius, for one minute and 51 seconds. EAST also managed to maintain a temperature of 160 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds. This is a higher peak than that of the sun’s core, which can reach a limit of 15 million degrees Celsius.
A tokamak (Russian: toroidal’naja kamera s magnitnymi katushkami: Russian acronym for “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils”) is a device which uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma in the shape of a torus. Torus is a ring-shaped device in which a hot, rarefied gas (usually hydrogen, in the plasma state) is kept cohesive and away from inner walls by a magnetic field created by electromagnets outside the chamber. It was originally conceptualized and invented in the 1950s by Soviet professor Sadyk Azimovič Azimov (1914-88) and others at the Kurčatov Institute in Moscow.
China’s experimental nuclear fusion device was created in 1998 and was called HT-7U at the time. With a view to making it easier to pronounce and remember, as well as having a precise scientific meaning for national and foreign experts, HT-7U was officially renamed EAST in October 2003.
In 2006, the EAST project was completed in a definitive and higher quality manner. In September-October 2006 and in January-February 2007, the EAST device performed two discharge debugs and successfully achieved stable, repetitive and controllable high-temperature plasmas with various magnetic configurations.
EAST has a nuclear fusion reaction mechanism similar to that of the sun. Its operating principle is to add a small amount of the hydrogen isotope deuterium or tritium to the device’s vacuum chamber and generate plasma through a transformer-like principle, then increase its density and temperature to cause a fusion reaction – a process that generates enormous energy.
Over the ten years since its construction, EAST has continually made progress in the search for controllable nuclear fusion.
In 2009, the first round of EAST tests was successful, thus putting China at the forefront of nuclear fusion research. In February 2016, EAST’s physics tests made another major breakthrough, achieving the longest temperature duration reaching 50 million degrees. In 2018, EAST reached a number of important milestones including 100 million degrees.
This means that mankind has made another major advance in its efforts to turn nuclear fusion into new, clean and inexhaustible energy.
Energy is the fundamental driving force behind the functioning of every aspect of life. The energy used today has many shortcomings and cannot fully meet human needs, while nuclear fusion energy is considered the ideal energy par excellence.
According to calculations, the deuterium contained in one litre of seawater can produce the equivalent of the energy of 300 litres of petrol, released after the nuclear fusion reaction, besides the fact that the product is not harmful. Although it is not a “perpetual motion machine”, nuclear fusion can provide energy for a long time. Not only can Marvel’s hero Iron Man rely on the small reactor in his chest, but also raw materials can be obtained from seawater at an extremely low cost.
The first condition for nuclear fusion is to keep fuel in the fourth state of matter, after solid, liquid and gas – i.e. the plasma state.
When the plasma temperature reaches tens of millions of degrees Celsius or even hundreds of millions of degrees, the atomic nucleus can overcome the repulsive force to carry out the polymerisation reaction. Coupled with sufficient density and a sufficiently long thermal energy confinement time, the nuclear fusion reaction is able to continue steadily.
Nevertheless, it is particularly difficult to achieve both the temperature of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius and the long-term confinement control of plasma stability.
While recognising that nuclear fusion is the ultimate goal for solving the problem of mankind’s future energy, there is both cooperation and competition in international research.
A sign of cooperation is that on July 28, 2020, a ceremony was held in France to launch the major project to install the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). The ITER project is jointly implemented by China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan, India, Russia, the European Union and the United States.
On December 28, 2020, Seoul’s Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) set a new world limit at the time and its ionomer maintained a temperature of over 100 million degrees for 20 seconds.
In early 2018, the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had begun designing and building a Soonest/Smallest Private-Funded Affordable Robust Compact fusion reactor more advanced than ITER, with a volume tens of times smaller and significantly reduced in cost. But it remains to be seen whether this goal can be achieved.
Chinese researchers have now achieved significant progress in this field and taken another important step towards obtaining energy from nuclear fusion.
In the future, if the production capacity and energy supply of the “artificial sun” is achieved, it will be another technological revolution that can promote social progress even more than the industrial revolution which, in fact, meant the beginning of pollution for the planet and exploitation by capital.
Although there is still a long way to go before the construction of the naval port on Jupiter described by the Chinese writer, Liu Cixin, in his novel The Three-Body Problem (San Ti), mankind is indeed advancing on the road to controllable nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion energy has exceptional advantages in producing rich resources, as well as no carbon emissions, so it is clean and safe. It is one of the ideal energy sources for mankind in the future, and can contribute significantly to achieve the goal of eliminating said carbon.
The two greatest difficulties in generating energy from nuclear fusion lie in regularly reaching hundreds of millions of degrees, and in stable ignition and control of long-term confinement.
For the time being, multiple extreme conditions are highly integrated and organically combined at the same time, but this is very difficult and challenging.
In hitting the record, it is the first time that the EAST device has adopted key technologies such as the first water-cooled all-metal active wall, as well as the high-performance tungsten deflector and high-power wave heating states.
At present, there are over 200 core technologies and nearly 2,000 patents on EAST, bringing together cutting-edge technologies such as ‘ultra-high temperature’, ‘ultra-low temperature’, ‘ultra-high vacuum’, ‘ultra-strong magnetic field’ and ‘ultra-high current’.
The total power is 34 megawatts, which is equivalent to about 68,000 domestic microwave ovens heating up together. For 100 million degrees Celsius and -269 °C to coexist, it is necessary to use “ultra-high vacuum” with an intensity of about one hundredth of a billionth of the surface atmospheric pressure suitable for insulation. With a view to supporting this complex extreme system, almost a million parts and components work together on EAST.
The new EAST record further demonstrates the feasibility of nuclear fusion energy and also lays the physical and engineering foundations for marketing.
Energy on earth, stored in the form of fossil fuels, wind, water or animals and plants, originally comes from the sun. For example, fossil fuels evolved from animals and plants millions of years ago, and their energy ultimately comes from solar energy stored by the photosynthesis of plants at the base of the food chain. Therefore, regardless of the type of energy used by humans, they ultimately use the sun energy that comes from nuclear fusion.
If mankind could master the method for releasing the nuclear fusion energy in an orderly manner, it would be equivalent to controlling the sun energy source. Therefore, this is the reason why the controllable nuclear fusion reactor is called the “artificial sun”.
From nanotechnology to solar power: Solutions to drought
While the drought has intensified in Iran and the country is facing water stress, various solutions from the use of solar power plants to the expansion of watershed management and nanotechnology are offered by experts and officials.
Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region, and Iranians have long sought to make the most of water.
In recent years, the drought has intensified making water resources fragile and it can be said that we have reached water bankruptcy in Iran.
However, water stress will continue this fall (September 23-December 21), and the season is expected to be relatively hot and short of rain, according to Ahad Vazifeh, head of the national center for drought and crisis management.
In such a situation, officials and experts propose various solutions for optimal water management.
Alireza Qazizadeh, a water and environment expert, referring to 80 percent of the arid regions in the country, said that “Iran has one percent of the earth’s area and receives only 36 percent of renewable resources.
The country receives 250 mm of rainfall annually, which is about 400 billion cubic meters, considering 70 percent evaporation, there is only 130 billion cubic meters of renewable water and 13 billion cubic meters of input from border waters.”
Referring to 800 ml of average rainfall and 700 mm of global evaporation, he noted that 70 percent of rainfall in Iran occurs in only 25 percent of the country and only 25 percent rains in irrigation seasons.
Pointing to the need for 113 billion cubic meters of water in the current year (began on March 21), he stated that “of this amount, 102 billion is projected for agricultural use, 7 percent for drinking and 2 percent for industry, and at this point water stress occurs.
In 2001, 5.5 billion cubic meters of underground resources were withdrawn annually, and if we consider this amount as 20 years from that year until now, it means that we have withdrawn an equivalent of one year of water consumption from non-renewable resources, which is alarming.”
The use of unconventional water sources can be effective in controlling drought, such as rainwater or river runoff, desalinated water, municipal wastewater that can be reused by treatment, he concluded.
Rasoul Sarraf, the Faculty of Materials at Shahid Modarres University, suggests a different solution and states that “To solve ease water stress, we have no choice but to use nanotechnology and solar power plants.
Pointing to the sun as the main condition for solar power plant, and while pointing to 300 sunny days in the country, he said that at the Paris Convention, Iran was required to reduce emissions by 4 percent definitively and 8 percent conditionally, which will only be achieved by using solar power plants.
Hamidreza Zakizadeh, deputy director of watershed management at Tehran’s Department of Natural Resources and Watershed Management, believes that watershed management can at least reduce the effects of drought by managing floods and extracting water for farmers.
Amir Abbas Ahmadi, head of habitats and regional affairs of Tehran Department of Environment, also referring to the severe drought in Tehran, pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive plan for water management and said that it is necessary to cooperate with several responsible bodies and develop a comprehensive plan to control the situation.
He also emphasizes the need to control migration to the capital, construction, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Tehran city.
While various solutions are proposed by officials and experts to manage water and deal with drought, it is necessary for the related organizations to work together to manage the current situation.
Mohammad Reza Espahbod, an expert in groundwater resources, also suggested that while the country is dealing with severe drought due to improper withdrawal of groundwater and low rainfall, karst water resources can supply the whole water needed by the country, only if managed.
Iran is the fifth country in the world in terms of karst water resources, he stated.
Qanats can also come efficient to contain water scarcity due to relatively low cost, low evaporation rates, and not requiring technical knowledge, moreover, they proved sustainable being used in perpetuity without posing any damages to the environment.
According to the Ministry of Energy, about 36,300 qanats have been identified in Iran, which has been saturated with water for over 2,000 years.
In recent years, 3,800 qanats have been rehabilitated through watershed and aquifer management, and people who had migrated due to water scarcity have returned to their homes.
Water resources shrinking
Renewable water resources have decreased by 30 percent over the last four decades, while Iran’s population has increased by about 2.5 times, Qasem Taqizadeh, deputy minister of energy, said in June.
The current water year (started on September 23, 2020) has received the lowest rain in the past 52 years, so climate change and Iran’s arid region should become a common belief at all levels, he lamented.
A recent report by Nature Scientific Journal on Iran’s water crisis indicates that from 2002 to 2015, over 74 billion cubic meters have been extracted from aquifers, which is unprecedented and its revival takes thousands of years along with urgent action.
Three Iranian scientists studied 30 basins in the country and realized that the rate of aquifer depletion over a 14-year period has been about 74 billion cubic meters, which is recently published in Nature Scientific Journal.
Also, over-harvesting in 77 percent of Iran has led to more land subsidence and soil salinity. Research and statistics show that the average overdraft from the country’s aquifers was about 5.2 billion cubic meters per year.
Mohammad Darvish, head of the environment group in the UNESCO Chair on Social Health, has said that the situation of groundwater resources is worrisome.
From our partner Tehran Times
Technology and crime: A never-ending cat-and-mouse game
Is technology a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, as it is more about the way technology is used. Afterall, technology can be used by criminals but can also be used to catch criminals, creating a fascinating cat-and-mouse game.
Countless ways technology can be used for evil
The first spear was used to improve hunting and to defend from attacking beasts. However, it was also soon used against other humans; nuclear power is used to produce energy, but it was also used to annihilate whole cities. Looking at today’s news, we’ve learned that cryptocurrencies could be (and are) used as the preferred form of payments of ransomware since they provide an anonymous, reliable, and fast payment method for cybercriminals.
Similarly, secure phones are providing criminal rings with a fast and easy way to coordinate their rogue activities. The list could go on. Ultimately, all technological advancements can be used for good or evil. Indeed, technology is not inherently bad or good, it is its usage that makes the difference. After all, spears served well in preventing the extinction of humankind, nuclear power is used to generate energy, cryptocurrency is a promise to democratize finance, and mobile phones are the device of choice of billions of people daily (you too are probably reading this piece on a mobile).
However, what is new with respect to the past (recent and distant) is that technology is nowadays much more widespread, pervasive, and easier to manipulate than it was some time ago. Indeed, not all of us are experts in nuclear material, or willing and capable of effectively throwing a spear at someone else. But each of us is surrounded by, and uses, technology, with a sizeable part of users also capable of modifying that technology to better serve their purposes (think of computer scientists, programmers, coding kids – technology democratization).
This huge reservoir of people that are capable of using technology in a way that is different from what it was devised for, is not made of just ethical hackers: there can be black hats as well (that is, technology experts supporting evil usages of such technology). In technical terms, the attack vector and the security perimeter have dramatically expanded, leading to a scenario where technology can be easily exploited for rogue purposes by large cohorts of people that can attack some of the many assets that are nowadays vulnerable – the cybersecurity domain provides the best example for the depicted scenario.
Fast-paced innovation and unprecedented threats
What is more, is that technology developments will not stop. On the contrary, we are experiencing an exponentially fast pace in technology innovation, that resolves in less time between technology innovations cycles that, while improving our way of living, also pave the way for novel, unprecedented threats to materialize. For instance, the advent of quantum computers will make the majority of current encryption and digital signature methods useless and what was encrypted and signed in the past, exposed.
The tension between legitimate and illegitimate usages of technology is also heating up. For instance, there are discussions in the US and the EU about the need for the provider of ICT services to grant the decryption keys of future novel secure applications to law enforcement agencies should the need arise –a debatable measure.
However, technology is the very weapon we need to fight crime. Think of the use of Terahertz technology to discover the smuggling of drugs and explosives – the very same technology Qatar has successfully employed. Or the infiltration of mobile phone crime rings by law enforcement operators via high tech, ethical hacking (as it was the case for the EncroChat operation). And even if crime has shown the capability to infiltrate any sector of society, such as sports, where money can be laundered over digital networks and matches can be rigged and coordinated via chats, technology can help spot the anomalies of money transfer, and data science can spot anomalies in matches, and can therefore thwart such a crime – a recent United Nations-sponsored event, participated by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) Qatar and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) discussed the cited topic. In the end, the very same technology that is used by criminals is also used to fight crime itself.
Don’t get left behind
In the above-depicted cybersecurity cat-and-mouse game, the loser is the party that does not update its tools, does not plan, and does not evolve.
In particular, cybersecurity can help a country such as Qatar over two strategic dimensions: to better prevent/detect/react to the criminal usage of technology, as well as to advance robustly toward a knowledge-based economy and reinforce the country’s presence in the segment of high value-added services and products to fight crime.
In this context, a safe bet is to invest in education, for both governments and private citizens. On the one hand, only an educated workforce would be able to conceptualize/design/implement advanced cybersecurity tools and frameworks, as well as strategically frame the fight against crime. On the other hand, the same well-educated workforce will be able to spur innovation, create start-ups, produce novel high-skill products, and diversify the economy.
In this context, Qatar enjoys a head start, thanks to its huge investment in education over the last 20 years. In particular, at HBKU – part of Qatar Foundation – where we have been educating future generations.
CSE engages and leads in research disciplines of national and global importance. The college’s speciality divisions are firmly committed to excellence in graduate teaching and training of highly qualified students with entrepreneurial capacity.
For instance, the MS in Cybersecurity offered by CSE touches on the foundations of cryptocurrencies, while the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, offering several majors (including cybersecurity), prepares future high-level decision-makers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the ICT domain – the leaders who will be driving the digitalization of the economy and leading the techno-fight against crime.
Enhancing poverty measurement through big data
Authors: Jasmina Ernst and Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah*
Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While significant progress to reduce poverty had been made at the global and regional levels by 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has partly reversed this trend. A significant share of the population in South-East Asia still lacks access to basic needs such as health services, proper nutrition and housing, causing many children to suffer from malnutrition and treatable illnesses.
Delivering on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind requires monitoring of the SDG implementation trends. At the country level, national statistics offices (NSOs) are generally responsible for SDG data collection and reporting, using traditional data sources such as surveys, census and administrative data. However, as the availability of data for almost half of the SDG indicators (105 of 231) in South-East Asia is insufficient, NSOs are exploring alternative sources and methods, such as big data and machine learning, to address the data gaps. Currently, earth observation and mobile phone data receive most attention in the domain of poverty reporting. Both data sources can significantly reduce the cost of reporting, as the data collection is less time and resource intensive than for conventional data.
The NSOs of Thailand and the Philippines, with support from the Asian Development Bank, conducted a feasibility study on the use of earth observation data to predict poverty levels. In the study, an algorithm, convolutional neural nets, was pretrained on an ImageNet database to detect simple low-level features in images such as lines or curves. Following a transfer learning technique, the algorithm was then trained to predict the intensity of night lights from features in corresponding daytime satellite images. Afterwards income-based poverty levels were estimated using the same features that were found to predict night light intensity combined with nationwide survey data, register-based data, and geospatial information. The resulting machine learning models yielded an accuracy of up to 94 per cent in predicting the poverty categories of satellite images. Despite promising study results, scaling up the models and integrating big data and machine learning for poverty statistics and SDG reporting still face many challenges. Thus, NSOs need support to train their staff, gain continuous access to new datasets and expand their digital infrastructure.
Some support is available to NSOs for big data integration. The UN Committee of Experts on Big Data and Data Science for Official Statistics (UN-CEBD) oversees several task teams, including the UN Global Platform which has launched a cloud-service ecosystem to facilitate international collaboration with respect to big data. Two additional task teams focus on Big Data for the SDGs and Earth Observation data, providing technical guidance and trainings to NSOs. At the regional level, the weekly ESCAP Stats Café series provides a knowledge sharing platform for experiences related to the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical systems. The Stats Café includes multiple sessions dedicated to the use of alternative data sources for official statistics and the SDGs. Additionally, ESCAP has published policy briefs on the region’s practices in using non-traditional data sources for official statistics.
Mobile phone data can also be used to understand socioeconomic conditions in the absence of traditional statistics and to provide greater granularity and frequency for existing estimates. Call detail records coupled with airtime credit purchases, for instance, could be used to infer economic density, wealth or poverty levels, and to measure food consumption. An example can be found in poverty estimates for Vanuatu based on education, household characteristics and expenditure. These were generated by Pulse Lab Jakarta – a joint innovation facility associated with UN Global Pulse and the government of Indonesia.
Access to mobile phone data, however, remains a challenge. It requires long negotiations with mobile network operators, finding the most suitable data access model, ensuring data privacy and security, training the NSO staff and securing dedicated resources. The UN-CEBD – through the Task Team on Mobile Phone Data and ESCAP – supports NSOs in accessing and using mobile phone data through workshops, guides and the sharing of country experiences. BPS Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian NSO, is exploring this data source for reporting on four SDG indicators and has been leading the regional efforts in South-East Asia. While several other NSOs in Asia and the Pacific can access mobile phone data or are negotiating access with mobile network operators, none of them have integrated it into poverty reporting.
As the interest and experience in the use of mobile phone data, satellite imagery and other alternative data sources for SDGs is growing among many South-East Asian NSOs, so is the need for training and capacity-building. Continuous knowledge exchange and collaboration is the best long-term strategy for NSOs and government agencies to track and alleviate poverty, and to measure the other 16 SDGs.
*Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah, Head, Sub-Regional Office for South-East Asia
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