Startups

Bezos-Backed Fusion Startup Picks U.K. to Build First Plant

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A nuclear fusion startup backed by billionaire Jeff Bezos will build its first pilot power plant outside of London, potentially accelerating a new way of generating clean energy.

Canada’s General Fusion Inc. is one of about two dozen startups trying to harness the power that makes stars shine. Rather than splitting atoms like in traditional fission reactors, fusion plants seek to bind them together at temperatures 10 times hotter than the sun. Doing so releases huge quantities of carbon-free energy with no atomic waste.

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While national laboratories have been trying to build economically-sustainable fusion machines for more than a half century, private investors have only recently joined the pursuit as urgency builds to find new sources of emissions-free power to slow global warming. 

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“There are a lot of people preparing to take shots on goal right now,” General Fusion Chief Executive Officer Chris Mowry said in an interview. “We now have the first best but there are lots of others lining up.” 

Globally, more than $1.5 billion has poured into private fusion startups such as TAE Technologies Inc. and Commonwealth Fusion Systems in the U.S. Public funding from 35 countries has gone toward the $22 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in southern France. The project was supposed to begin testing in four years, though that date is now in doubt after pandemic lockdowns snarled supply chains. 

General Fusion’s announcement follows a call in April by the U.S. National Academies of Science for the country to accelerate plans to build a pilot fusion reactor capable of generating electricity as soon as 2035. Last November, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered $17 billion in support for green industries including nuclear power. His government wants an operating fusion plant based on the ITER design by 2040. 

Mowry said the U.K.’s support for the General Fusion pilot plant was “very meaningful,” but didn’t elaborate on the size of its financial support. General Fusion, which raised $100 million in its last round of fundraising, is again preparing to tap investors to help finance the project. “At some point we’re going to go public,” Mowry said.

Construction is expected to begin next year on the company’s $400 million facility near the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire. “There’s a great talent pool there that knows how to operate and maintain large fusion machines,” said Mowry. 

Read more at www.bloomberg.com

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