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Proton-boron nuclear fusion returns to spotlight

Technique fuses nuclei without producing harmful neutrons, but is far from power plant–ready

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12:56pm, October 8, 2013

A laser-driven technique could reignite research into fusing protons and boron nuclei, which make up the most seductive and challenging fuel for generating energy from nuclear fusion.

While the researchers admit that this type of fusion won’t be used to produce energy anytime soon, their work opens new avenues for exploring what many physicists consider the ideal fusion fuel. “The holy grail of holy grails is proton-boron fusion,” says Steven Cowley, a fusion physicist at Imperial College London who was not involved in the new work.

Since the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, scientists pursuing nuclear fusion have primarily focused on combining two varieties of hydrogen nuclei, deuterium and tritium. That’s the fuel of choice for hydrogen bombs and energy production experiments that try to squeeze more energy out of fusion reactions than they take to get started. Physicists have never reached this break-even point in controlled fusion. Plus

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