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Fusion energy breakthrough by US scientists boosts clean power hopes

First-ever net energy gain from fusion raises hopes for zero-carbon alternative.

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Enlarge / The high-powered Nova Laser before it creates nuclear fusion inside its target chamber at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (credit: Corbis via Getty Images)

US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time, according to three people with knowledge of preliminary results from a recent experiment.

Physicists have since the 1950s sought to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun, but no group had been able to produce more energy from the reaction than it consumes — a milestone known as net energy gain or target gain, which would help prove the process could provide a reliable, abundant alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear energy.

The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said.

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