If only we could produce fusion power in a controlled way, we would possess a virtually limitless supply of relatively clean and safe energy. Fusion represents the best hope humanity possesses to solve the problems of feeding, housing, and caring for the billions of additional people expected to populate our world in the next century. The problem for fusion researchers has been how to tame this most basic form of energy in the universe. Our sun and all other stars are fueled by fusion reactions, as are thermonuclear weapons. But igniting fusion in a controlled environment so that the high energy levels produced can be channeled safely into people’s homes has been another matter.

In a fusion reaction, nuclei of low atomic weight, such as hydrogen, fuse and thereby form nuclei of higher atomic weight, such as helium. When this occurs, some of the mass of the original nuclei are...

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