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Despite the hype, we shouldn’t bank on nuclear fusion to save the world from climate

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The revelation that researchers had succeeded in creating a nuclear fusion reaction that generated more energy than it consumed made reassuring reading last week. For almost half a century, I have reported on scientific issues and no decade has been complete without two or three announcements by scientists claiming their work would soon allow science to recreate the processes that drive the sun. The end result would be the generation of clean, cheap nuclear fusion that would transform our lives.

Such announcements have been rare recently, so it gave me a warm glow to realise that standards may be returning to normal. By deploying a set of 192 lasers to bombard pellets of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, researchers at the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California, were able to generate temperatures only found in stars and thermonuclear bombs. The isotopes then fused into helium, releasing excess energy, they reported.

It was a milestone event but not a major one, although this did not stop the US government and swaths of the world’s media indulging…



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