In today’s issue:

  • Big Tech isn’t just relying on nuclear fission, it’s also eying fusion too
  • OpenAI negotiating with start-up to secure future fusion power for its data centres
  • AI will also play a large role in development of nuclear fusion

Last week I wrote to you about how Big Tech firms are now looking towards nuclear to power huge electricity loads from data centres.

This, of course, is mainly due to artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) enormous appetite for electricity.

As I wrote, Sam Altman, the owner of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, is now in the process of rolling out a specific form of nuclear generation that targets the growing electricity demand from data centres.

In fact, Altman, Silicon Valley’s new golden boy, is now increasingly focused on a facility located on site at the National Laboratory in Idaho that’s entirely based on this new nuclear technology.

My colleague Sam Volkering calls the facility “Project Aurora”.

Sam says a specific law, US bill H.R. 1042, which has just come into effect, is a huge bullish catalyst for the entire Western nuclear industry, including the breakthrough Project Aurora that Altman is backing.

In fact, Sam says Project Aurora is now poised to take advantage of an investment opportunity worth an estimated $100 trillion.

Indeed, Sam fully expects Altman to take Project Aurora to the same kind of heights as ChatGPT.

If you want to learn more about it, and how you can potentially profit yourself, then all you need to do is click here.

The technology Altman is backing is based on nuclear fission, whereby atoms are split to release energy.

But it’s also true that Altman is looking at nuclear fusion, too.

This is the process that creates energy by mimicking the natural reactions that occur within the Sun. It involves smashing together two atoms with so much force that they fuse into a single, larger atom, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process.

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, OpenAI is in talks with a nuclear fusion start-up to buy vast amounts of clean power for energy-guzzling data centres.

OpenAI is currently negotiating a deal with Helion – a US start-up chaired by Altman – to secure future fusion power for its data centres, reported the WSJ.

Helion made history last year by entering what was said to be the world’s first power purchase agreement for power from fusion.

Helion signed that deal with tech giant Microsoft, which has close links with OpenAI, with the two tech companies reportedly planning to build a $100 billion data centre with an AI supercomputer called “Stargate” – set to launch in 2028.

Altman, who invested $375 million in Helion in 2021, has reportedly recused himself from the talks with OpenAI given his conflict of interest.

But he has previously said a breakthrough in nuclear fusion is needed to meet the vast energy requirements of the next-generation of AI, which he thinks will end up requiring a near-limitless source of power as its capabilities improve and it reaches a level that surpasses human intelligence.

Helion plans to get its first plant online by 2028. This is significantly ahead of other fusion start-ups, many of which are targeting the early 2030s to begin producing commercial power.

Whether Helion’s plans are achievable is certainly debateable.

Scientists have long warned that we are still years away from achieving fusion power on any significant scale.

But perhaps Altman – again – is on to something and that commercial fusion power is actually closer than many people think.

And that might be because of AI.

You see, while nuclear fusion might be the answer to AI’s future energy needs, AI might also be the answer to how scientists eventually crack the code in delivering what some describe as the “holy grail” of clean energy.

Just recently, scientists pursuing fusion energy said they had made a key breakthrough in overcoming one of fusion’s biggest challenges to date by using AI.

Although nuclear fusion has the potential to provide near-limitless energy, there are many obstacles to such claims – including but not limited to generating more energy than it takes to power the reactors, developing reactor-proof building materials, keeping the reactor free from impurities and restraining that fuel within it.

But that last problem, at least, could now be solved.

Engineers from Princeton University and its Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have developed an AI model that predicts, and then figures out how to avoid, plasma – the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion reactions – becoming unstable and escaping the strong magnetic fields that hold it inside certain donut-shaped reactors called tokamaks.

If the plasma escapes the magnets’ clutches, the reaction ends, so it’s certainly important that the engineers’ innovative AI model can predict and prevent these disruptive events happening in real time.

The team found that its AI controller could forecast potential plasma tearing up to 300 milliseconds in advance, plenty of time for it to then change certain operating parameters to make sustained fusion reactions more stable.

The team published its findings recently in the journal Nature.

Be clear: this AI application not only represents a significant technical achievement, paving the way for sustained high-power fusion reactions, a crucial milestone for efficient energy production, but also illustrates the potential for AI to play a pivotal role in making fusion energy a practical reality.

“The experiments provide a foundation for using AI to solve a broad range of plasma instabilities, which have long hindered fusion energy,” a Princeton spokesperson said.

The findings are “definitely” a step forward for nuclear fusion, said Egemen Kolemen, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University and an author of the study.

At this stage, all the authors of the study describe their work as proof-of-concept and write in their paper that it’s still very much in the early stages of fine-tuning. They are hopeful, however, that it could be eventually applied to other reactors, also to optimise the reaction or harvest the energy from it.

This is just the latest breakthrough in fusion.

Earlier this year scientists and engineers near Oxford set a new nuclear fusion energy record, sustaining 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds – enough to power roughly 12,000 households for the same amount of time – using just 0.2 milligrams of fuel.

Although that experiment still used more energy as input than it generated, another team in California managed to produce a net amount of fusion energy in December 2022. The team has now replicated this process three times since.

Of course, despite the promising progress, fusion energy remains some way from becoming commercially available.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that AI will play a large role in its development.

Until next time,

James Allen
Contributing Editor, Fortune & Freedom