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The carbon-free energy of the future: this fusion breakthrough changes everything |

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This is a moment that scientists have dreamed of for well over half a century. The US’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) has smashed the longest-standing goal in the quest for carbonfree energy from fusion, the nuclear process that powers stars.

Researchers from NIF used the world’s most energetic laser to fire 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy into a millimetre-sized capsule of hydrogen fuel. Reaching temperatures many times those found in the sun’s core and pressures 300bn times those normally experienced on Earth, a wave of nuclear reactions ripped through the fusion fuel, releasing 3.15 MJ of fusion energy – 1.1 MJ more than was put in – over a few tens of nanoseconds.

Now this is not exciting because of the absolute energy released — that was small, only enough to boil two or three kettles. And it’s not even exciting because of any new physics: fusion experts have long argued that you just need a hammer of a certain size to make the thing “go”, and NIF has obliged by upping the input laser energy considerably. (That said, the physical precision behind this…

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