Venture Capitalists Backing Nuclear for the Post-Obama Age

As long as US President Barack Obama remains in office, the outlook for most disruptive technologies will remain poor. Obama is anti-nuclear, anti-hydrocarbon, and anti-private business, forcing most visionary entrepreneurs to look beyond the Obama age for better opportunities.

Several important investors have been helping to lay the groundwork for a Nuclear Technology Renaissance through early investments in nuclear startups. As breakthroughs in new technologies occur, all that will be needed for a clean breakout will be a better economic and governmental environment for business.

A Nuclear Technology Renaissance Spurred on by Startups

Last Summer, Founders Fund invested a small $2 million seed round into an early stage nuclear startup called Transatomic Power. Founded in 2011 by MIT nuclear scientists Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, Transatomic Power is working on a nuclear reactor that uses molten salt and nuclear waste as a power source. While molten salt nuclear reactor tech is decades old, Dewan and Massie are using new designs and materials…

Founders Fund partner Scott Nolan, who made the investment in Transatomic Power, compares the nuclear entrepreneurial tech movement to what’s been happening in aerospace with young disruptor SpaceX and others. Nolan was an early employee at SpaceX and helped develop the propulsion systems used on the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and the Dragon spacecraft.

… Investors beyond Venrock and Founders Fund are starting to take notice. Last month the head of Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, Sam Altman, said he was joining the boards of two nuclear startups. Helion Energy, which is building a magnet-based fusion reactor, and UPower, which has designed a small modular fission reactor, unusually went through the Y Combinator program.

Then there’s young nuclear fusion startup General Fusion, which is backed by Canadian venture capitalists Chrysalix Venture Capital, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and the Canadian government. The company hopes to have a working prototype of its fusion reactor this year and an operating reactor in 2020.

Bill Gates has backed a nuclear startup called TerraPower, which was a spin off from the intellectual property incubator Intellectual Ventures. ___

So venture capital heavyweights such as Peter Thiel, Sam Altman, Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other risk-taking investors are putting their money into new nuclear technology startups, for both fusion and fission. But will these investments pay off?

Such investments are considered high-risk, but the global energy industry runs well into the $trillions. It is likely that the first $trillionaires will make their next fortunes either in energy, or in outer space enterprise — or both! In fact, there is significant overlap between the heavy-hitters who are investing in new nuclear technologies and those who are investing in space enterprises. The lure of becoming a $trillionaire, riding the wave of the next big disruptive technology, can be almost irresistible.

Another look at new nuclear:

A team at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works revealed late last year that they’re at work on a truck-sized fusion reactor. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and others have plugged money into General Fusion in Burnaby, British Columbia. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Venrock have invested in Tri-Alpha Energy, a secretive effort near Irvine, Calif. And Peter Thiel’s Mithril and Y Combinator have funded a Redmond, Wash., startup called Helion Energy. ___

Investor Sam Altman expresses why he thinks investing in new energy technologies is so important:

I think a lot about how important cheap, safe, and abundant energy is to our future. A lot of problems—economic, environmental, war, poverty, food and water availability, bad side effects of globalization, etc.—are deeply related to the energy problem.

I believe that if you could choose one single technological development to help the most people in the world, radically better energy generation is probably it. Throughout history, quality of life has gone up as the cost of energy has gone down.

The 20th century was the century of carbon-based energy. I am confident the 22nd century is going to be the century of atomic energy (i.e. terrestrial atomic generation and energy relatively directly from the sun’s fusion). [1] I am unsure how the majority of the 21st century will be powered, but I’d like to help get things moving. ___

Despite the deadly combination of Obama, Merkel, and Fukushima, nuclear energy still has a future. Russia, China, and South Korea are still building fission reactors.

Currently, there are more than 400 nuclear power reactors operating in the world. In the year 2012 they contributed around 2600 billion kWh, about 12% of the total electricity produced in the world. At present, more than 70 power reactors are being constructed in numerous countries such as Russia, China and South Korea.

… It is notable that in the last decade, more than 200 power reactors started up with an average of one in every 20 days… On an average, nuclear power plants had a life of 20 to 30 years, but some assessments have established that they can operate for many more years. In U.S, more than 60 reactors have been granted license to extend their operating lives from 30 out to 50 years. The economic and technical feasibility of replacing important reactor components, such as steam generators and pressure tubes in heavy water reactors has been demonstrated successfully. __

Once the newer technologies are perfected, and Luddites such as Hollande, Obama, and the other usual suspects are disposed of, the way will be more clear for a rapid expansion of clean, safe, affordable, abundant nuclear power.

More on nuclear fusion startups

Small Nuclear Power Reactors from World Nuclear Association

Small nuclear reactor designs from Wikipedia

Gen IV Reactors

Gen IV Reactors

Gen IV Reactors

Nuclear power is the safest, most energy-dense form of power generation, and offers the promise of abundant electric power and industrial heat for many tens of thousands of years — and beyond.

For humans to be able to live through ice ages, in outer space, on ocean seasteads, at very high altitudes, and at the bottom of the sea and deep underground, will require newer, scalable forms of nuclear power. It is possible, but a lot of government dead weight will need to be eliminated to open the door to a more abundant and expansive human future.


How nuclear benefits US economy

The report, commissioned by Nuclear Matters, estimated the value of nuclear power with a widely-used dynamic input-output model of the U.S. economy developed by Regional Economic Models Inc., together with the Brattle model of the U.S. electricity sector. By linking these models, the authors were able to measure the overall value of the U.S. economy with and without the nuclear industry, providing the most accurate picture to date of this power source’s contribution to the overall economy

New Hoover Institution essays on “Reinventing Nuclear Power”

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