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Scientists researching nuclear energy have made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion with an experiment that generated more fuel than was put in. The breakthrough involved nearly 200 lasers, a gigantic research complex, and a tiny piece of fuel.

The research took place at the National Ignition Facility (not to be confused with R. Kelly's house) and here is how it works:

At the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, 192 enormous lasers in a structure the size of a football stadium fire at a small gold cylinder, vaporizing it. That generates an onslaught of X-rays rushing inward toward a fuel pellet smaller than a peppercorn, crushing the hydrogen inside into helium, and releasing a burst of energy — effectively, a miniature hydrogen bomb.

It took four years for the experiment to finally produce helium in that last step, but last fall, it finally happened.

The reaction, though important, is a long, long way off from any practical usage in everyday life, however. The energy generated was not enough to achieve ignition, "where the overall setup generates more energy than it consumes in a self-sustaining chain reaction."

Only 1 percent of the energy of the laser made it to the hydrogen target. The reaction lasted less than a billionth of a second, and generated enough energy to power a 100-watt bulb for about three minutes.

Still, we're one step closer to a Mr. Fusion reactor. It's exciting news. "We are closer than anyone has gotten before," said the leader of the study, Omar Hurricane, who is a real person and not a Bond villain.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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