Jeff Bezos Just Shelled Out $19.5 Million for Nuclear Fusion--Is He Tilting at Atomic Windmills?

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The Amazon hegemon, it was announced last week, put a significant amount of his own cash into a Canadian company, General Fusion, which is seeking to build a small-scale nuclear fusion power plant--the first of its kind--within four years.

The joke among engineers, says one critic, is that "nuclear fusion was 50 years away 50 years ago, and 50 years from now it will be 50 years away."

That critic is Jim Riccio, Greenpeace's nuclear-policy analyst. As you could probably guess, he's not a huge fan of nuclear power, and is perfectly happy to talk at length about its attendant evils.

But with this project, Riccio isn't up in arms about safety issues, which do not involve reactor meltdowns and nuclear winter. Rather, he sees it as a big waste of time and money. Nuclear fusion projects, he points out, have never been able to show a net energy gain. That is, the energy going out has never exceeded the energy going in. Which, for a power plant, is a problem.

For its part, the company acknowledges that it is working on technology first experimented with in the 1970s that has mostly been left aside since then.

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It hopes to have something to show for its efforts within four years. Unfortunately, its investors said pretty much the same thing four years ago.

If Bezos did just flush $19.5 million down the toilet, don't feel too bad for him. He is rich.

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