Energy

Google Exec Gets Into The Fusion Power Business

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Former Google executive Mike Cassidy is starting his own nuclear fusion power company.

Cassidy created Apollo Fusion to develop “revolutionary hybrid reactor technology with fusion power to serve safe, clean, and affordable electricity to everyone.” Cassidy was formerly vice president of Google research lab Alphabet’s X, and headed its high-altitude, balloon-based internet access initiative. He’s still an adviser at Google, after stepping down as vice president of the research lab in 2017.

Cassidy thinks nuclear power is essential to fighting global warming, and he wants to make the benefits of nuclear fusion so obvious that environmentalists have no choice but to embrace it.

“Environmentalists have struggled for a while over whether nuclear power is good or bad. I think most of the more thoughtful environmentalists now view nuclear as good,” Cassidy told Bloomberg. “If you can find a way to do nuclear power that doesn’t have the downsides, the risky, runaway meltdowns, or things like that, it’s a real win for the planet.”

Nuclear fusion is different from conventional nuclear energy, since fusion causes atoms to join together at extremely high temperatures to release huge amounts of energy.

Apollo says fusion technology is very safe since it breaks down when there’s a loss of cooling or control, meaning it can’t melt down. The process leaves almost no waste and wouldn’t even require hazardous fuel.

Proponents say nuclear fusion power could be “too cheap to meter,” arguing it would be too cheap and abundant to even bother measuring individual use and cost.

Apollo isn’t alone. Other companies have made some recent breakthroughs in fusion in the hopes of restarting the atomic age.

Scientists believe “fast ignition” could allow a fusion reaction to be controlled because it requires less “start-up” energy than other methods.

An American research team in January discovered a “fast ignition” to start up fusion reactors using a high-intensity laser, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The current problem with fusion reactors is that they are difficult to keep running.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division is developing a compact fusion reactor that’s small enough to fit in a truck, but powerful enough to power 80,000 homes.

Apollo hopes research will allow scientists to design reactors capable of better controlling the plasma. Current experimental fusion reactors heat the plasma to more than 150 million degrees Celsius, simulating the conditions that cause natural nuclear fusion reactions in stars. These reactor’s strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the reactor’s walls so that it doesn’t cool down and lose energy.

Other studies have suggested ways to improve fusion reactors by precisely shaping the magnetic field generated by their electromagnetic coils.

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