Chinese scientists on Thursday carried out the country's first successful test of an experimental fusion reactor, powered by the process that fuels the sun, a research institute spokeswoman said.
China, the United States and other governments are pursuing fusion research in hopes that it could become a clean, potentially limitless energy source. Fusion produces little radioactive waste, unlike the fission process that powers conventional nuclear reactors.
Beijing is eager for advances, both for national prestige and to reduce reliance on imported oil and dirty coal.
The test Thursday by the Chinese government's Institute of Plasma Physics was carried out on a Tokamak fusion device in the eastern city of Hefei, said Cheng Yan, a spokeswoman at the institute.
Cheng said the test was considered a success because the reactor produced plasma, a hot cloud of supercharged particles. She wouldn't give other details.
"This represents a step for humankind in the study of nuclear reaction," she said.
The Chinese facility is similar to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor scheduled to be built by a seven-nation consortium in Cadarache in southern France, according to state media. That reactor is due to be completed in 2015.
The partners in the French reactor are the European Union, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, India and South Korea.
China is the world's No. 2 oil consumer and its No. 3 importer, consuming at least 3.5 million barrels of foreign oil per day last year.
The Chinese government plans to build dozens of traditional fission nuclear power plants, and is trying to expand use of cleaner alternative energy sources such as natural gas, wind power and methanol made from corn.