Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Russia Join Forces on Nuclear Fusion

Forbes MAR 10, 2013

The Rusnano Group, a venture firm created by the government of Russia, is the latest investor to jump into Tri-Alpha Energy, one of the most potentially groundbreaking and mysterious companies in tech.

Secret photos from a recent Tri-Alpha board meeting

Tri-Alpha wants to bring nuclear fusion reactors to market, according to sources. Nuclear fusion power plants, in theory, can provide clean, safe, cheap and ubiquitous power. A fusion reactor and an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with water could provide enough power for the state of California.

Several national labs and companies are working toward the same goal. If anyone achieves it, the rewards will be billions in profits and scientific immortality.

But, oops, it’s not easy.

Tri-Alpha has shared some tidbits about its aneutronic fusion technology—see this lengthy PowerPoint deck—but where they really excel is skullduggery. It’s a highly secretive company that provides very few details about itself. Two years ago rumors swirled that it would begin to disclose details on its technology. It didn’t happen.

Then there are the investors. Harry Hamlin—star of L.A. Law, “Like Father, Like Santa”, “Badge of Betrayal” and the man who played Perseus in the 1981 Ray Harryhausen epic “Clash of the Titans”—was one of the original investors. It was back when Tri-Alpha was still known as CBFR, short Colliding Beam Fusion Reactor. (While Hamlin is the only person featured in this article who has been profiled on the Mr. Skin website, he’s no dope. He was a Fulbright and his father Chauncey helped design the Saturn V rocket with Werner Von Braun.

Other investors include Venrock, NEA, and Dale Prouty, a software expert with NASA in his background. Arno Penzias, the Nobel Prize winning physicist that confirmed the Big Bang, is a board member, according to sources. This SEC document from 2002 identifies Buzz Aldrin as an investor too.

The basic technology comes from Hendrik Monkhorst of the University of Florida and Norman Rostoker, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at University California Irvine that has been working in plasma physics for years.

Will Tri-Alpha confirm these details? No. Venture capital firms with investments won’t discuss the company and generally don’t even list it on their portfolio rosters. Back in 2007, I posted a story that said the company had raised $40 million but sources say that the total raised is well past the $100 million mark now. (One investor told me once that the board includes a Nobel winner and a Hollywood star, but that’s as much as I got back then.) A lot of the information on the company dribbles out in SEC filings, announcements from UC Irvine and patent filings.

“An Epic Entertainment Spectacular.” No, that’s not the company’s mission statement. It’s the tagline from “Clash.”

As part of the Rusnano investments, chairman Anatoly Chubais became a board member.