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Why the dream of fusion power isn’t going away

With those reactions, fusion reached what’s sometimes called scientific breakeven—a huge milestone by any definition. But, of course, there were caveats. 

The lasers in this reactor are some of the most powerful in the world, but they’re also pretty inefficient. In the end, more power was pulled from the grid than what the fusion reactions produced. And most experts agree that this version of fusion isn’t super practical for power plants, at least in the near term. 

While this was a milestone, it was more symbolic than practical. And it’s notable that in the meantime, the world’s largest and most famous fusion project is languishing—the massive international collaboration ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) has been plagued with delays and exploding costs. 

But amid slow progress from national and international research efforts, the private sector has shown a lot of interest in fusion power. Cumulative investment reached $6.2 billion earlier this year. Investors are still putting money into the technology, with many citing the need for innovative climate technologies and recent progress in the private sector.

While no private fusion company has achieved net energy (or at least, hasn’t announced it), there have been some milestones to mark. Commonwealth Fusion Systems has broken records for magnetic field strength with its new superconductor materials, a technology that could be the key to making fusion work economically at scale. Other startups, like TAE Technologies, have celebrated temperatures of 75 million °C, or even hotter, another key stepping stone to reaching viable fusion reactors. 

I think it’s exciting to see more startups jumping in on fusion energy. There’s a sense of urgency from these companies, because they need to make progress and continue raising money or risk going out of business. 

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