Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Backs Nuclear Startup General Fusion

Looks like Bill Gates isn’t the only Internet titan interested in backing nuclear power innovation. Amazon (s AMZN) Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions, has joined a $19.5 million round of funding for nuclear fusion startup General Fusion. (Announcement here, and hat tip Clean Break).

General Fusion is toiling away at developing fusion power, the powerful and waste-free Holy Grail of nuclear power. More specifically, General Fusion is looking to create its own brand of magnetized target fusion, which employs hundreds of mechanical pistons to drive a shock wave through a lead-lithium mixture surrounding a plasma of hydrogen isotopes, fusing them into hydrogen. While the process is technically feasible, it’s mighty difficult to accomplish and General Fusion hopes to demonstrate a working model in 2013.

Other investors in General Fusion’s round included Canadian oil company Cenovus Energy and existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, GrowthWorks, Braemar Energy Ventures, Entrepreneurs Fund, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), and SET Venture Partners.

Very few venture capital firms are willing to back nuclear startups because of the high risk and high capital investment needed to commercialize the technology. Some exceptions include CMEA Capital, which has backed NuScale Power, and Venrock, which has invested in Tri-Alpha Energy. Hyperion Power found an investor in private equity group Altira Group. General Fusion stands out because of its high-profile venture investor list.

However, nuclear innovation could be stalled for the near future. As I wrote in March, the Japanese nuclear disaster could stall the commercial deployment of nuclear plants in the short term, as well as research and investment in nuclear innovation in the long term.

Image courtesy of Jurvetson.