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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Backs Nuclear Startup General Fusion

Looks like Bill Gates isn’t the only Internet titan interested in backing nuclear power innovation. Amazon (s AMZN) Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions, has joined a $19.5 million round of funding for nuclear fusion startup General Fusion. (Announcement here, and hat tip Clean Break).

General Fusion is toiling away at developing fusion power, the powerful and waste-free Holy Grail of nuclear power. More specifically, General Fusion is looking to create its own brand of magnetized target fusion, which employs hundreds of mechanical pistons to drive a shock wave through a lead-lithium mixture surrounding a plasma of hydrogen isotopes, fusing them into hydrogen. While the process is technically feasible, it’s mighty difficult to accomplish and General Fusion hopes to demonstrate a working model in 2013.

Other investors in General Fusion’s round included Canadian oil company Cenovus Energy and existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, GrowthWorks, Braemar Energy Ventures, Entrepreneurs Fund, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), and SET Venture Partners.

Very few venture capital firms are willing to back nuclear startups because of the high risk and high capital investment needed to commercialize the technology. Some exceptions include CMEA Capital, which has backed NuScale Power, and Venrock, which has invested in Tri-Alpha Energy. Hyperion Power found an investor in private equity group Altira Group. General Fusion stands out because of its high-profile venture investor list.

However, nuclear innovation could be stalled for the near future. As I wrote in March, the Japanese nuclear disaster could stall the commercial deployment of nuclear plants in the short term, as well as research and investment in nuclear innovation in the long term.

Image courtesy of Jurvetson.

9 Responses to “Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Backs Nuclear Startup General Fusion”

  1. I think Fukusima could only make nuclear progress faster: We are realizing that the technology that Enrico Fermy invented sixty years ago and the only that works today is obsolete.

    We need to create new ideas for nuclear fusion and fission.

    How is that that the only way to extract energy from fission is passive? Just putting enough uranium together and letting it decay. With such enormous quantity of waste material, and no control.

    Is that all we are capable of? All the smartest minds in the world could not come with something better?

    We need something active, a machine that takes atoms(very few are needed, not even molar quantities), split them using energy, takes part of the generated energy to sustain the reaction and the rest as a generator, like an engine but with fusion.

    We need creative and risk takers people in the Academia too, but it seems bureaucracy kills both of them, we need more General Fusions.

  2. Troy McConaghy

    Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion are very different things.

    Fission means breaking things apart into pieces. Fusion means joining them together. Both processes can result in the release of energy; it depends what you break apart or join together.

  3. “fusing them into hydrogen”
    You mean helium right? I haven’t heard of any projects trying to harvest energy from fusing subatomic particles.

  4. Fukushima will only stall fusion if people are complete morons. Turning off a fusion reactor is like turning off a light switch. Keeping the reaction going is the hard part with fusion, not stopping it.

    • You’re right. And who is at the focal point of the stupidity? The media, who has the opportunity to clarify, but is usually only willing to sensationalize for monetary and competitive reasons.

      In this case, it’s possible to remove the word “nuclear” as the common-denominator term that confuses the difference in people’s minds and call “fusion” something sounding completely different. Fusion is too close to fission.

      Of course, that will never happen. This is why we need some things decided on by smart people and not the public or politicians who can be confused and influenced by interests intent on stifling something by running smear/fear campaigns.

      Of course, that will never happen. :-)