Blinded By the Light

Physicists take an important step toward limitless clean energy, but the payoff won't come for decades

As the clock crept toward 11:15 p.m. last Thursday, the 500 scientists and engineers packed into the control room and an adjacent auditorium at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory kept their eyes riveted on a bank of computer monitors. They waited anxiously as technicians injected less than 1 oz. of tritium gas into the doughnut-shaped hollow at the heart of a 50-ft.- tall reactor in the next room. Then they waited some more as the tritium mixed with deuterium gas already inside and the combination was heated with powerful radio beams.

The temperature climbed above 100 million degrees -- three times...

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