So concluded the chairman of a Department of Energyad hoc committee of experts in 1979, after a comprehensive review of the US inertial‐confinement fusion program. In spite of this positive evaluation, the role of inertial‐confinement fusion in the total US energy program continues to be a subject of disagreement. Before I mention the issues of contention, let me describe inertial‐confinement fusion briefly. In a typical scheme, a pea‐sized target pellet containing hydrogen isotopes is projected into a reactor chamber, where it is suddenly irradiated with an intense beam of light or ions from a “driver” (see figure 1). As the surface of the target blasts away, the rocket‐like reaction forces implode the target's interior to densities and temperatures sufficient to cause the hydrogen nuclei to fuse, releasing an amount of energy equivalent to that of a barrel of oil (see PHYSICS TODAY, August 1973, page 46).
Fusion scientists are encouraged by recent experiments demonstrating the efficient coupling of laser light to targets and new ideas for economically competitive power plants.