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The scientists at the , or NIF, at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory are preparing to meet an end-of-month deadline for the first set of experiments in the final stretch of a national effort to achieve the long-sought goal of -- a reaction in which more energy is released than put into it.

Lab officials promised congressional funders that before Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2010, they would start "credible ignition experiments" in the enormous facility, which officially opened in spring 2009.

The facility's primary mission is to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation's aging nuclear weapons stockpile through fusion experiments. If fusion is achieved, it also would open the door for research into unlimited sources of energy, such as using seawater as fuel, and would allow scientists to study celestial phenomena such as supernovas in new ways.

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