Back when I studied geology in grad school, the long-term future of energy had a single name: nuclear fusion. It was the 1970s. The physicists I studied with predicted that tapping this clean new source of electric power by forcing two nuclei of hydrogen to combine and release massive amounts of energy, might be 50 years off.

Four decades later, after I’d left my career of research and writing in the energy industry and begun a second career as an author and a professor, I found myself making this same forecast with my own students and readers. In what had become an ironic cliché, fusion, it seemed, would forever haunt a distant horizon.

That seems to be changing, finally.

Thanks to advances in physics research, materials science and supercomputing, scientists are building and testing multiple fusion reactor designs. About a dozen fusion startups with innovative ideas have the private investment they need to see what they can achieve. Still, it’s too early to break out the champagne, and not only for technical reasons.

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