Your Wednesday Briefing: A Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

Scientists studying nuclear fusion in California announced a major breakthrough yesterday. For the first time, a fusion reaction in a lab produced more energy than it took to start the reaction.

This month, 192 giant lasers blasted a small cylinder about the size of a pencil eraser that contained a frozen nubbin of hydrogen encased in diamond. The beams vaporized it.

In less than 100 trillionths of a second, 2.05 megajoules of energy — roughly the equivalent of a pound of TNT — bombarded the pellet. Out flowed a flood of neutron particles, the product of fusion, which carried about three megajoules of energy, a factor of 1.5 in energy gain.

Controlled fusion could offer an energy source that does not produce greenhouse gases or radioactive waste. But experts say a viable laser fusion power plant is likely to require gains of 30 to 100, a goal that could take decades to reach.

What is fusion? It’s the thermonuclear reaction that powers the sun and other stars — the fusing of hydrogen atoms into helium.

How does it work? Helium has slightly less mass than hydrogen atoms do. That difference is converted into a burst of energy.

Argentina beat Croatia, 3-0, minutes before we sent out this newsletter. The team advances to the World Cup final on Sunday.

Lionel Messi, Argentina’s star player, now has one final chance to win a World Cup. He’s 35, and this is likely to be his last global tournament. In his home country, The Athletic reports, Messi is “all the superheroes in one.”

In the stadium, Argentina’s fans started singing before the game was finished. The South American powerhouse was up by two goals at halftime and never gave a determined Croatia team a chance to recover. At 69 minutes, it scored its third and final goal.

Celebration: Argentine fans watched in the former home of Diego Maradona, a legendary player. “This place is sacred,” a security guard said.

What’s next: France and Morocco face each other today. Decades of history will collide.

Migrants: The World Cup will soon be over, but the labor economy continues. “Working in a foreign country is not a choice,” said one worker who, despite having developed severe asthma while working in Qatar, is considering returning. “We are compelled to do it.”

Climate: Qatar’s World Cup stadiums may be the future of sports in a warming world.

Less than a week after China lifted its “zero Covid-19” restrictions, Beijing looks like a city in lockdown. This time, though, it’s self-imposed by residents.

A wave of Covid is sweeping across China’s capital. Cold and flu medicines are scarce. Rapid antigen tests are now one of the hottest commodities in the city. Restaurants have closed as staff members test positive. The streets are empty: Even delivery workers are staying home.

“No one dares to come out now,” Yue Jiajun, a restaurant owner in Beijing, said. He initially celebrated when customers were allowed to dine indoors last week. But now, “even takeaway, I have no customers,” he said.

Context: The severity of Beijing’s outbreak is hard to discern — China dismantled its mass testing system. Weibo, the social media service, is full of personal testimonies of infection, and a local official said that visits to fever clinics had increased 16-fold in a week.

From the ARMY to the armed forces: Jin, the eldest member of BTS, has enlisted in South Korea’s military. “Cuter than expected,” he wrote in a post on social media, showing off his freshly shaved hair.

Lives lived: Ashley Bickerton was diagnosed with A.L.S. in 2021. An artist and devoted surfer, he lived in Bali and worked until the end. Bickerton died last month at 63.

As the White House hosts more than 40 African leaders this week, it is making an effort to close the diplomatic distance of the Trump years as the world vies for the continent’s attention and resources.

Before the summit began yesterday, the U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it would not be a “compare and contrast” with powers like China, but for observers it will be hard to ignore the jockeying. Russia, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries have courted African leaders, yielding a Nairobi highway, an airport in Guinea-Bissau and more.

African leaders are looking for concrete results, but also greater influence in geopolitics. “Certainly, we’ll need a little money,” Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, said. “But first, there must be the will to work with Africans,.”

The White House has pledged $55 million to Africa, and an official said President Biden would support a permanent spot in the Group of 20 major economies for the African Union.

“When the continent is purely seen as a theater to counter the advances of Russia and China, it becomes clear for many of us in the continent that we are not the focus,” Gustavo de Carvalho, a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said. —Lynsey Chutel

In other news from Africa:

  • South Africa will not hold impeachment hearings for President Cyril Ramaphosa.

  • Deaths are soaring in drought-ravaged Somalia. But the global hunger monitor said the country was not yet in a famine, an official declaration that would unleash aid.