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Clean energy inspired by the stars is the dream of scientists pursuing nuclear fusion, in which atomic nuclei fuse together and release energy. In a first for laser-driven fusion, scientists at a US lab say they have reached a key milestone called fuel gain: they are producing more energy than the fuel absorbed to start the reaction.

But the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California, is still a long way from sparking a self-sustaining fusion reaction with an overall gain in energy – a process called ignition. Currently, the reactor as a whole needs more energy to operate than the amount that is produced.

"This is a significant step in fusion research," says Omar Hurricane at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which operates NIF. "But there is a long path ahead for fusion energy as a power source."

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