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Here's how close fusion startups are to producing energy

Status of fusion energy companies
Data: Axios Research; Table: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Fusion energy, and its promise of near-limitless zero-emissions electricity, is the ultimate climate moonshot. It's also devilishly difficult to know just how close — or far — we are from that goal.

State of play: After colleague Katie Fehrenbacher yesterday checked in with Commonwealth Fusion, we reached out to other notable fusion developers to see where they're at.

The big picture: The ultimate goal is "net energy," or producing a fusion reaction that generates more energy than it consumes.

  • "Energy," of course, includes heat as well as electricity.
  • Some developers, such as Commonwealth Fusion, distinguish between when they'll produce net energy, and when they'll achieve the more meaningful goal of "net electricity" — actual electricity production from their fusion machines.
  • Commonwealth says that it won't reach that latter goal until the 2030s.

Bottom line: Generating electricity from fusion is still years away.

  • Then again, ask a conventional nuclear developer if they can build a traditional large reactor in the U.S. within the next 10 years, and you'll be laughed out of the room.

Zoom out: The other main category of advanced nuclear energy is a small modular reactor.

  • These devices could one day be built in a factory, reducing costs. Because they're smaller and use conventional fission, they'd seem a lock to being the first type of new nuclear energy to come to market in North America.
  • GE Hitachi is aiming to complete its small reactor for Ontario Power Generation as soon as 2028. That's a tighter race with fusion than we would've guessed.
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