Google X’s raison d’être is embracing far-out ideas, so it’s no surprise, really that former director Mike Cassidy is wading into the decidedly choppy and always controversial waters of nuclear energy.
Cassidy, whose most recent tenure at Google found him heading up the company balloon-based internet initiative Project Loon, has been quietly working on launching Apollo Fusion. The company is a new energy startup working to develop “revolutionary hybrid reactor technology with fusion power to serve safe, clean, and affordable electricity to everyone.” (It’s also apparently the name of a racing bike. Go figure.)
The company’s recently updated site opens with the words “Let’s quietly redefine what’s possible,” which seems to describe its launch strategy as much as anything. Bloomberg, which first noticed the new information, notes that, until a few days ago, Apollo Fusion’s site simply sported a definition of nuclear fusion, and not much else.
Of course, nuclear power is still a going concern, albeit less eagerly embraced than during its salad days. In October of last year, the U.S. opened a nuclear reactor in Tennessee — its first new one in 20 years. And a number of companies like Transatomic and UPower are promising safe new alternatives to the nuclear power of decades past. The new technologies, coupled with ever-increasing concerns about climate change, have caused many to reconsider nuclear energy as a potential alternative.
As its name implies, Cassidy’s solution is fusion-based, following in the footsteps of companies like the Jeff Bezos-backed General Fusion, along with TriAlpha Energy and Helion Energy. Fusion, which fuses together rather than splits atoms, is considered safer than the more traditional fission, including less waste created as a byproduct. There also isn’t the same risk of meltdown.
Various versions of fusion technologies have been the subject of undelivered promises for decades, including, notably cold fusion. That was debunked shortly after it was first proposed in the late-1980s.
Cassidy himself doesn’t appear ready to offer up much more information on the subject, though he did acknowledge what may likely be an uphill battle in the recognition of nuclear energy as a viable alternative power source.
“Environmentalists have struggled for a while over whether nuclear power is good or bad,” he told Bloomberg in an otherwise decidedly limited conversation. “I think most of the more thoughtful environmentalists now view nuclear as good. 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.”
It’s no surprise, of course, that the site features a prominent declaration of safety for the company’s technology. The site explains, “Apollo Fusion hybrid power plants are designed for zero-consequence outcomes to loss of cooling or loss of control scenarios and they cannot melt down.”
After all, for many, notions of nuclear power still elicit troubling images of tragedy, bolstered by recent events like 2011’s Fukushima disaster. Public opinions don’t appear to be trending in a positive direction, either. A Gallup poll from roughly this time last year notes that, for the first time (since the poll was launched in the mid-1990s), a majority of Americans oppose nuclear energy, at 54 percent.
At the very least, it’s hard to imagine too many Americans feeling comfortable with a plant opening in their backyard.
Apollo’s site ticks off other boxes as well, including emission-free production and inexpensive construction and operation. And, the site adds, “Because they’re inherently safe, Apollo Fusion power plants can be nestled in the communities they serve, to make power right where customers need it.”
Again, likely an uphill sell, no matter how safe the new technology is stated to be. Still, Cassidy says the company’s tech has already won over a few key players: namely, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both of whom are reportedly “super enthusiastic” about Apollo’s work, though neither currently count themselves among backers of the company.