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The US National Ignition Facility is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear fusion, a process that could offer abundant clean energy.
The lab will kick-start the reaction by focusing 192 giant laser beams on a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel.
To work, it must show that more energy can be extracted from the process than is required to initiate it..
At approximately the same time, scientists will also get their hands on another mammoth fusion experiment, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), currently being built in Cadarache, France.
Iter will attempt to initiate fusion using a different method, known as magnetic confinement, in which a super-heated volume of gas is constrained by magnetic fields in a doughnut-shaped vessel known as a tokamak.