After years of doubts, hopes grow that nuclear fusion is finally for real and could help address climate change

It’s been compared to everything from a holy grail to fool’s gold: the ultimate solution to clean, readily available energy or an expensive delusion diverting scarce money and brainpower from the urgent needs of rapidly addressing climate change.

For decades, scientists have been trying to harness the energy that powers stars, a complex, atomic-level process known as nuclear fusion, which requires heating a plasma fuel to more than 100 million degrees Celsius and finding a way to contain and sustain it. In theory, fusion could yield inexpensive and unlimited zero-emissions electricity, without producing any significant radioactive waste, as fission does in traditional nuclear power plants.

A range of daunting scientific and engineering hurdles has long made that possibility, at best, a distant promise. But now, after breakthroughs this year at MIT and elsewhere, scientists — and a growing number of deep-pocketed investors — insist that fusion is for real and could start sending power to electricity grids in about a decade.

Man, I hope this pans out. To actually make a dent in climate change, we need to not just replace carbon-producing energy sources with zero carbon, but we need to dramatically increase the amount of energy available.

Related: Martin Kleppmann reviews The Future of Fusion Energy.