For most of the public, the word "fusion" refers to the recent claims by University of Utah chemists of a way to produce boundless energy in a jar at room temperature. But research on "hot" fusion, the attempt to simulate within the laboratory the enormous pressures and temperatures that fuel the stars, has been under way for more than a generation. And it was only last year that the press was reporting a possible breakthrough from experiments in which scientists subjected tiny capsules of hydrogen isotopes to extremely high temperatures and enormous pressures by blasting them with radiation.

The results of these classified experiments in the Nevada desert were hailed as a "historical turning point" in the field, known as inertial confinement fusion. And the government seemed ready to act quickly. The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the next step would be a laboratory microfusion facility(LMF), which could cost...

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