Recently U.S. government scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved a long-sought milestone in developing clean fusion energy.

For the first time, the amount of energy produced by a fusion reaction exceeded the energy required to produce it. The press dutifully reported the news, but there has been little celebration outside of scientific circles. For most people, fusion remains a futuristic pipe dream, constantly lurking around the corner, never materializing.

There are reasons for skepticism: Few scientific endeavors have been dogged by so many dead ends and false claims. But this has blinded us to the fact that, disappointments aside, scientists have been making slow but steady progress on fusion far longer than many people realize.