Nautilus

Will Fusion Energy Ever Come Together?

The target assembly at the National Ignition Facility’s fusion experiment. The two triangle-shaped arms shield the cylinder until five seconds before a blast from the world’s most powerful lasers.

It’s the poetry of fusion that draws us in. There in the heart of a star, in the welter of plasma, we find creation. In mindboggling heat and pressure, hydrogen atoms crash together and fuse to become helium, and the process shines light into a dark universe. Who wouldn’t be charmed when Carl Sagan reverently describes how fusion makes “the stars turn on”? And who can resist the audacious idea of creating a miniature sun here on Earth, and using nuclear fusion reactors to make human civilization shine brighter?

Perhaps you heard the encouraging news recently from the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the $3 billion fusion experiment in California. Scientists announced that by blasting a peppercorn-sized sphere containing hydrogen atoms with the world

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