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Scientists have for the first time been able to produce a fusion reaction that creates a net energy gain, meaning research in the process has taken a giant leap forward, according to the Financial Times.

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The breakthrough in the search for a method to provide clean, carbon-free power, comes after some 70 years of research and billions of dollars in funding.

“To most of us, this was only a matter of time,” a senior fusion scientist familiar with the work told The Washington Post.

The scientist was not named as the Department of Energy plans to make a formal announcement Tuesday about the groundbreaking work.

The discovery was made at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, according to The Post.

Researchers warn that it could take years before the discovery pays off with unlimited, cheap energy. Fusion reactions emit no carbon and, according to the Times, a cup of the hydrogen fuel from such a reaction could power a home for hundreds of years.

What is fusion power?

In a fusion process, heat and pressure cause two lighter atomic nuclei, material in the center of an atom, to combine to form a heavier nucleus.

That process releases energy, and it is that energy that scientists hope to harness to use for fuel.

Governments and private donors around the world have investing in the process that, once perfected, could generate nearly four million times more energy than burning oil or coal.

Imagine a pickup truck filled with fusion fuel. That fuel would not only have no carbon emission nor lasting radioactive waste, it would have the equivalent energy of  two million metric tons of coal, or 10 million barrels of oil.

“If this is confirmed, we are witnessing a moment of history,” Dr. Arthur Turrell told the Times. Turrell is a plasma physicist whose book The Star Builders charts the effort to achieve fusion power.

“Scientists have struggled to show that fusion can release more energy than is put in since the 1950s, and the researchers at Lawrence Livermore seem to have finally and absolutely smashed this decades-old goal.”