back to article UK gets glowing salute from Bezos-backed General Fusion: Nuclear energy company to build plant in Oxfordshire

General Fusion – the Canadian-based atomic outfit backed by Jeff Bezos and a battalion of other major investors – is to build a test facility in Oxfordshire to showcase its power-generating technology. Following a COVID-friendly handshake, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has given General Fusion the green light to …

  1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

    Here's earlier news, carried on El Reg, of Exceptional Energy able to be both, just as nuclear is, an existential threat and amazing treat ......... 4ElReg2Pioneer and Driver

    I Kid U Not ...... although I do accept that many will find such news hard to believe perfectly true. Quantum leaps in understanding tend to do that ...... leave many temporarily behind living in the past rather than exploring and exploiting the future. For humanity it appears to be natural as opposed to being unnatural and an alien block to the advance of quite revolutionary evolutionary progress.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

      Are you a bot or just a random word generator?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

        Are you a bot or just a random word generator? ..... AndrueC

        No, neither. Does semantic web developer aid your quest for an accurate current descriptor of the prime programming protocol driver, AndrueC, for there is nothing random in generation anywhere here?

        Such is certainly much more towards the treat end of the virtual spectrum and definitely more intelligently designed to be engaged and employed and enjoyed rather than feared and treated as an existential threat should a change of direction and purpose be ACTively deployed because of either the persistent and increasingly troubled appearance of fearsome treatment and ignorant and arrogant abuse and misuse of otherworldly facilities and simple capturing utilities, such as be exercised on Earth via the conduits and leverage provided by fervent beliefs and religions and federal fiat wealth supply and treasure sanction.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

        >Are you a bot or just a random word generator?

        We believe that amanfromMars1 is a red/blue pill test of whether we're in the matrix

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

          We believe that amanfromMars1 is a red/blue pill test of whether we're in the matrix ..... Yet Another Anonymous coward

          And should that be so, Yet Another Anonymous coward, what would the results of that test be suggesting and proving, and would they be good or bad for you with particular and peculiar regard to what you can do about leading internetworking things in the future ...... or is such a progression a quite revolutionary evolutionary jump provided from a quantum leap made by others long ago far away in a distant and ancient past.

          The alternative ... that humans have decided and planned, realised and provided their past futures to end up with their current presents ...... could only fairly surely be classed as pathetically bad and not good whenever the choice of journeys and destinations is infinite and all are equally as easily attained and sustained, maintained and retained, exploited and expanded, milked and bilked.

          Let the AI Train Take the Strain with IT Delivering Colossal Gains rather than Media Realising and Supplying Persistent Conflict with Geo-Politically Engineered Sources of Novel Pain and Destructive Obstruction ....... Certifiable Madness and Maniacal Mayhem. Take a Quantum Communications Leap and Futures will Overwhelm and Enable you to Lead them in Directions of a Greater Choosing and to Destinations which are the Starting Points for New Beginnings in Places and Spaces Elsewhere.

          That's what Exceptional and Existential Energies surely and freely provide for capitalisation.

          1. gandalfcn Silver badge

            Re: It's a competitive power command and control sector ...... novel energy

            Burger off.

  2. Foxglove

    According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

    But how much power does it take to create this power?

    Enquiring (or confused, take your pick about mine) minds need to know

    I would love to see fusion power made viable, I'm a fan of fission power (I know it has drawbacks) but I do think there is a future in both types of power generation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

      Somehow, I expect it will end up costing just about the same as all the other methods of generating electricity. If it's intrinsically much cheaper, then expenses will be padded to bring it up to a competitive level, and if it's much more expensive, it will be quietly forgotten and eventually converted to a steampunk themepark.

      Didn't help that I read the article headline as "Monetized Target Fusion Technology"...

    2. Rol Silver badge

      Re: According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

      And how much does the fuel cost? If we're talking Helium 3 then it might be cheaper to run those homes with a conventional plant burning twenty pound notes. (Moon mining is quite expensive)

      Like the other commentator, I like the idea of fission, if it's done right. That is - using something that is dirt cheap and far more abundant than uranium. Thorium - which, incidentally, is nowhere near as toxic as spent uranium. Nor can it be weaponised. And the inherent properties of thorium make it ultra safe, as the reaction cannot naturally or even accidentally runaway. Spent uranium can also be added to the fuel, where its half-life of thousands of years can be brought down to a manageable couple of years.

      When nuclear scientists first spoke of unmetered electricity for the masses, I think they had thorium in mind - an element that the rare earth industry sees as a problematic by-product, and one that they would merrily pay power companies to take it off of their hands.

      1. Xalran

        Re: According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

        As you pointed, Thorium can't be weaponized... that's why it wasn't developed and whey everybody went for PWR/enriched Uranium power plants : to produce the nice Pu and U isotopes that can go boom...

        1. Mike Richards Silver badge

          Re: According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

          Thorium 232 can't be weaponised, but the U-233 bred from it in a thorium reactor is fast fissile.

          Both the US (Teapot - MET) and USSR (RDS-37) exploded composite plutonium U-233 devices in the 1950s and India claims to have done the same in 1998 in the Pokhran 2 test.

    3. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: According to General Fusion, just 1kg of fusion fuel can power 10,000 homes for a year.

      The fuel is deuterium-tritium like other fusion designs. Tritium can be bred in the molten lead/lithium blanket around the core.

      Deuterium is a few dollars per gram, I'd imagine tritium right now is much more expensive as no one runs commercial tritium breeder reactors any more.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Hang on

    Am I supposed to believe that, because we're coming out of COVID, all of a sudden there's all this new tech lying around begging for investors to pick up ?

    Last week we read about how Taiwan is rolling out a massive quantum encryption infrastructure, this week Bezos is backing a fusion reactor to be built by 2025.

    I thought that there was this massive ITER project that was supposed to demonstrate that fusion was possible.

    Are we short-circuiting that now ? Or is this just another UK snoughts-in-the-trough-project that will fail, but we did our best and our buddies made out like bandits, so all is well project ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hang on

      "stimulation".. economy is crap, money needs to be thrown around, UK is throwing billions at Wordpress site mills and calling it "digital innovation economy", if you can sell a dream then money can be thrown at it, because money needs to be thrown somewhere!

      So they're unpacking the dreams that worked last time and got them research money last time.

      Nothing has really changed. Just the need to soak up billions and trillions of stimulus money somewhere other than driving up property prices.

      If I was Xi, I would open up the North and South bridge of HKEX, and they'd be flooded with that stimulus cash.

    2. Bitsminer Bronze badge

      Re: Hang on

      Well, GF has been around for a few years.

      IIRC their original concept was a cubic metre or so of hot oil with numerous mechanical pistons pounding it to create tiny hot bubbles, and tinier bubbles of deuterium within that would fuse to create helium and energy.

      Looking at their website, they have replaced most management and member of the board of directors over the last couple of years. And their technical description has changed a bit too, so likely they are working on version 0.8 of their gadget.

      The move/addition of Culham may be foresight. If the thing actually works, it might be perceived to be easier to obtain an export permit from the UK instead of Canada the US.

    3. Xalran

      Re: Hang on

      well Culham hosts the ITER predecessor : the JET.

    4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Hang on

      ITER is running behind schedule. But I think it's more that there's a bunch of different research ideas in fusion being tried at various scales at the moment, and many of them are relying on different methods.

      Given the pay-out if any one of these succeeds, some people clearly think it's worth a bit of funding on the off-chance of mega profits.

      Whether this means that fusion research has got better, or just better at selling ideas that eventually don't work, is another matter.

    5. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Hang on

      "I thought that there was this massive ITER project that was supposed to demonstrate that fusion was possible."

      We demonstrated fusion was possible a long time ago. The question is how to use it to produce power in an economic way. There are many different ideas for how to do that. ITER is the biggest attempt to do so using a tokamak. NIF has been looking at inertial confinement fusion. There are several operating stellerators and spherical tokammaks. The Farnsworth fusor has always been popular with some people, but has struggled to get funding. Plus a whole pile more that have been proposed and/or tested at various times to varying degrees.

      This is how science and technology works. Until you've actually tried different ways of doing things, you don't know which is going to be the best, or even which are possible. Just because ITER is being built, that doesn't mean no-one else is allowed to try anything related to fusion. Most people think that tokamaks are the most likely way to give a route to commercial fusion, so that's why it has such a big project aimed at it. But there are plenty of other methods that may well also be viable. And given how far behind schedule and over budget ITER is, there are a growing number of people starting to think that maybe trying out a bunch of smaller, faster projects might be a better way of doing things - even if they don't pay off in the end, we'll likely have results before ITER is even finished, at a fraction of the cost.

      Edit: As for the UK aspect, Culham is one of the foremost fusion centres on the planet, and JET and MAST are two of the most successful experiments. If you're going to build a new fusion experiment, this is always going to be among the first choices for location. Obviously I can't guarantee there's no pork involved, but there's really nothing obviously suspicious about it. It's about as surprising as an announcement that a new particle accelerator will be built at CERN; sure, there are other places you could build one, but no-one should be surprised about it happening there.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Hang on

        > If you're going to build a new fusion experiment, this is always going to be among the first choices for location

        Mainly because of the 50-100years it would take to get planning permission to build a fusion reactor anywhere new.

        That was the main difficulty in building ITER. Finding a nuclear nation that isn't a close ally/enemy of any of the other partners. The French are unique in both having nuclear weapons and being equally 'trusted' by all sides

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Hang on

        The Farnsworth fusor

        Isn't that one of the cars from the Wacky Races?

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Hang on

          No, but Farnsworth was the inspiration for Professor Farnsworth in Futurama.

      3. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Hang on

        "I thought that there was this massive ITER project that was supposed to demonstrate that fusion was possible."

        No, the ITER Project is a globe-spanning collaboration of 35 nations. The ITER Members China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States and the United Kingdom and Switzerland who participate through Euratom, while the project has cooperation agreements with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada, trying to solve the problem of producing energy with fusion technology.

        We know fusion is possible like in the sun for instance.

    6. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: Hang on

      ITER and the PRC equivalent are coming along nicely. This just seems to be a Bezos vanity test project, it isn't actually the real deal.

  4. Nifty Silver badge

    There is as yet no such thing as net power generation by nuclear fusion. So you can't test such a reactor. Factually bogus headline.

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      @Nifty

      Quoting the Wikipedi:

      " Research into fusion reactors began in the 1940s, but to date, no design has produced more fusion power output than the power input.[1] Most fusion designs produce a stream of energetic neutrons that over time degrade the materials used within the reaction chamber".

      So yes, but why would you not test the result you get out, poor or not, in the hope you get it working.

      1. Nifty Silver badge

        "to showcase its power-generating technology"

        I rest my case.

  5. werdsmith Silver badge

    Do the science. Work the scientists, push the envelope, learn as much as possible.

    It’s possible that something may come out of it even it’s not not a self sustaining power generator.

    Ignore the depressing stick in the muds.

    Because if you do nothing then you will get nothing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      anonymous cos I know some of the former people at General Fusion

      It wouldn't be fair to say they're a scam, but shall we say, they are highly optomized for receiving research grants and publicity.

      >Do the science. Work the scientists, push the envelope, learn as much as possible.

      Yes but look at to the science.

      It's like planning a space mission in the 1920s

      ITER is like the R100. We've always built airships, if we just keep building bigger airships we can make it. Aren't there fundamental issues with using an airship in space (getting continuous power form a Tokomak)? Yes, but we've been working on this design for 50 years and we know it best.

      Stellerators (eg. Wendelstein 7-X) are like trying to build a SpaceX rocket with 1920s technology. It's probably the only thing that will work but it's early days

      General fusion is like going to space by building a trampoline. Each year you announce that you've bounced 1m higher than before - and with another grant you can build a bigger trampoline than last year. And look at all the progress we've been making.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        It's like planning a space mission in the 1920s

        Robert Goddard planned a space mission in the 1920s. Tsiolkovsky earlier still. Look how that turned out.

        Do nothing, achieve nothing.

  6. W.S.Gosset Silver badge
    Devil

    2025?

    This means... "Viable nuclear fusion is only 5 years away!"

    :D

    Sorry. That's a verrrrry old Nuclear Physicists' joke.

    It's been "only 5yrs away!" for about 60yrs now :D

    1. elbisivni

      Re: 2025?

      I was so excited a while ago (was is 2013?) when Lockheed Martin announced that the high beta Compact Fusion Reactor prototype would be built and tested within a year, and running actual net energy positive tests within five. Bang in line with your joke.

      I appreciate there have been more test objects come out of LM since then, but blimey geezers, manage expectations a bit better!

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: 2025?

        T-4 was meh. T-4B was an improvement. T-5 was under construction in 2019, but I see nothing more recent.

        MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems have also recently announced they're building a prototype compact fusion reactor and that they were aiming for 270 MegaWatts of net power by 2025.

        They started in 2017 and the most recent news from that is late 2020 with construction underway.

  7. bigtreeman

    already got one

    We've got a perfectly functional fusion reactor hanging up in the sky.

    Power is transmitted by light.

    It works right now, it's always worked,

    we're only now figuring out how to use it.

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: already got one

      True, but there are large transmission losses and no one has managed to get it working for more than 12 hours in a day

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: already got one

        There are quite a few solar collectors that work for FAR more than 12 hours a day. Some even manage 24/7 operation.

        Yes, those collectors are up in space, which means powering your home with them is a little more difficult.

        There are designs for massive solar collector farms in various orbits, but they often have issues with power transmission to the ground. Laser or Microwave transmission to the ground is relatively lossy, but more efficient than solar panels inside the atmosphere would be, but people are for some reason worried about GigaWatt lasers or microwaves being used as weapons or causing disasters.

      2. AdendHy

        Re: already got one

        It is currently working for 24hrs a day above the Arctic Circle.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: already got one

          Here it's eighteen hours today.

          Doh! It's still raining and grey out there.

  8. JimmyPage

    Let me guess ...

    it's "10 years away"

    like it was in 1950 .... and 1960 ... and 1970 ... and 1980 ...

  9. georgeOfLoughton

    "According to boffins"? Is this _The Sun_ or a technology publication? Grr.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Boffin is the approved El Reg terminology.

      Although there is debate as to whether a true boffin can be said to exist in a lab environment, as opposed to its native habitat - the shed. But I believe that even pipes and sheds are merely paraphanalia, for true boffinry is a state of mind...

  10. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Thorium reactors

    ...can't be weaponised, can't melt down, thorium is plentiful, cleaner (or not dirty for nearly as long):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power

    Fusion reactors are ever "10 years away", have been for decades, and will be for many more.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another piece of British ingenuity being sold off to the highest bidder?

    It's no wonder we don't really make anything in the UK anymore, except on behalf of foreign operators.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Another piece of British ingenuity being sold off to the highest bidder?

      The Canadian alternative to the Soviet токамак ?

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Another piece of British ingenuity being sold off to the highest bidder?

        @Yet Another Anonymous coward

        Leaves you speechless indeed.

  12. Porco Rosso

    Lockheed Martin Compact Fusion ...

    Any news about Lockheed Martin compact fusion reactor? Did they made real progress with there prototype?

    https://www.theregister.com/2014/10/16/experts_skeptical_over_lockheed_martins_claims_to_have_cracked_fusion/

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