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World’s richest men enthuse over new nuclear power, despite its poor progress

The world’s richest people are going nuclear, By Lizette Chapman, SMH, March 24, 2022 — In recent weeks, some of Silicon Valley’s most famous technologists have hailed a historically polarising energy source — nuclear power — as a solution to both cutting carbon emissions and weaning the world off now-controversial Russian gas.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that nuclear is “critical” to national security, while the risk of radiation is overplayed. And venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called for “1,000 new state-of-the-art nuclear power plants in the US and Europe, right now.”

The war galvanised a sentiment which has been building in recent years in the startup world, where billionaires including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel have opened their wallets to back next-generation nuclear companies. None of the advanced reactor startups has yet produced an operating commercial product, but some believe that the combination of tech advances and a new urgency around ditching fossil fuels could be a catalyst for the sector — which has mostly languished in regulatory purgatory since the 1970s.

“We wouldn’t be having a conversation about innovation in nuclear power today without the investment and thinking of the leaders of Silicon Valley,” said Josh Freed, who specialises in climate and energy at public policy think tank Third Way in Washington.

Last year, venture investors ploughed a record $US3.4 billion into nuclear startups — more than in every year over the past decade combined, according to research firm PitchBook. That number reflects very early-stage startups as well as more mature companies like Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Helion Energy, both of which raised funding rounds of $US500 million or more in 2021. In the previous decade there was an average of fewer than 10 deals a year. Last year the number jumped to 28.

“We wouldn’t be having a conversation about innovation in nuclear power today without the investment and thinking of the leaders of Silicon Valley,” said Josh Freed, who specialises in climate and energy at public policy think tank Third Way in Washington.

Last year, venture investors ploughed a record $US3.4 billion into nuclear startups — more than in every year over the past decade combined, according to research firm PitchBook. That number reflects very early-stage startups as well as more mature companies like Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Helion Energy, both of which raised funding rounds of $US500 million or more in 2021. In the previous decade there was an average of fewer than 10 deals a year. Last year the number jumped to 28.

Despite the uptick in interest from governments, TerraPower’s Navin said the company had yet to reach a deal. It’s a reminder that even the most advanced startups are likely still many years away from a wide commercial rollout. Says Navin: “It takes time to sell a nuclear power plant.” https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/the-world-s-richest-people-are-going-nuclear-20220323-p5a6zj.html

March 26, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs

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