The basic viability of fusion energy has been researched since the 1950's. The world's most powerful lasers are needed for the scientific experiment. fusion from a lab experiment into a commercial technology that could provide reliable, carbon-free energy to the grid will require many more scientific and engineering breakthrough.
When atoms are slammed into each other in a fusion reaction, they release energy. The goal of fusion energy is to get more energy out of the fusion reaction than what is put in to make it happen. This is the first time that has ever been demonstrated.
The fusion reaction at NIF produced more energy than the lasers used in the reactor. About 70% of the supplied energy was used to make the reaction by the lasers. Net energy gain within the system is important because the lasers require more energy to run than the reactor.
Anne White is head of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. She says that it doesn't mean that fusion power will be on the grid tomorrow.
The world's largest and most powerful laser is used in the lab.
It is not the most likely path forward for fusion efforts to produce net energy gain. A tokamak is a donut-shaped reactor that is thought to be the leading path forward for fusion scientists.
The net gain seen in the experiment doesn't translate into other approaches to fusion energy. White says that the engineering and physics that goes into getting there are not the same.