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Venture Investors Put Billions Into Nuclear Fusion And Fission Projects

From Crunchbase:

Nuclear power is having a big year for venture funding, and it’s not just fusion startups that are attracting capital.

A Crunchbase analysis of investment in nuclear projects shows companies pursuing both fission- and fusion-powered technologies have racked up huge rounds of late. Collectively, they’ve pulled in over $3.4 billion this past year.

We list 20 which have raised funds in roughly the past couple years below:

The largest recent round was for TerraPower, a venture founded by Bill Gates and other climate-focused backers around the idea that the private sector needed to take action in developing advanced nuclear energy to meet growing electricity needs. The Bellevue, Washington-based company raised $750 million last week in equity financing led by Gates and South Korea’s SK Group.

The fundraise follows some big developments for TerraPower, which is building a demonstration site for its Natrium nuclear technology in Wyoming. The project features a sodium-cooled reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system capable of providing a maximum of 500 MW of power—roughly the power consumption of 80,000 typical American homes.

Like many companies on our list, 14-year old TerraPower has been working on its technology for a long time. Other recently funded companies well over a decade old include General Fusion (founded in 2002), and NuScale Power (founded in 2007), which develops small modular reactors and recently went public.

Fusion leads

The lion’s share of recent funding has gone to fusion energy—an area that was once considered too far-off for commercial investment but is now seen as increasingly viable.

Per our analysis, five of the seven largest nuclear investments this past year went to fusion-focused companies. While enthusiasm from climate-focused investors around the carbon-free energy that fusion provides was a factor, the perceived timeline for commercialization was arguably an even bigger driver.

Fusion technologies, which produce power using energy released by forcing together atomic nuclei, were for decades a sort of Holy Grail for energy researchers. After decades of research and prototypes, investors told Crunchbase News that it is now possible that we are just years (rather than decades) away from commercializing the technology.

The biggest single fusion investment came in December, when Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems raised a huge round of more than $1.8 billion led by Tiger Global and also included investments from Bill Gates, Marc Benioff’s Time Ventures and about two dozen others.

Just before that, in early November, Everett, Washington-based Helion Energy closed a $500 million Series E led by Sam Altman—with an opportunity for an additional $1.7 billion tied to reaching performance milestones.

The forecast: more funding

There are plenty of reasons to expect the influx of capital to continue.

For one, several companies on our list are still relatively early stage. Commonwealth’s massive December round, for instance, was a Series B, indicating it’s not unreasonable to expect even larger capital infusions at Series C and beyond.

Geopolitical drivers also look favorable for nuclear, in particular as much of the developed world looks more urgently for sustainable replacements to Russian-supplied fossil fuels. The massive U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed this month, also includes support for new and existing nuclear technology as part of a broader goal to reduce carbon emissions.

Another positive indicator is that public investors are showing some interest in innovative nuclear power technologies. The most prominent case in point for this is NuScale’s performance.

After completing its SPAC merger in early May, NuScale shares are up roughly 40%. This is particularly impressive considering companies in almost every other sector that took the SPAC route to market this past year are way down.

Illustration: Dom Guzman