Bezos (Photo via Wikipedia)

What is it with Seattle area billionaires and their love of nuclear power? Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder touted the benefits of nuclear energy in a talk in New York, promoting his investment in Bellevue-based TerraPower. Now, word comes that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is backing General Fusion, a Burnaby, British Columbia company developing nuclear fusion technology. Bezos Expeditions, the investment firm of the Amazon.com founder, is participating in a $19.5 million round of funding for General Fusion which also included investment from Cenovus Energy, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, GrowthWorks, Braemar Energy Ventures and others.

The startup is working on a technology known as magnetized target fusion, an approach that was developed in the 1970s but hasn’t been widely explored in recent years. The idea is that nuclear power plants can be constructed far cheaper than more traditional nuclear plants, a concept that was touted by Gates in his remarks earlier this week. The company says that its technology has economic and environmental benefits, and is safer than traditional methods associated with nuclear fission. The company writes:

Fusion systems cannot melt down or explode since the fusion reaction only acts on a small amount of nuclear fuel at a time and can only occur if suitable conditions can be created and maintained for a sufficient time. If any part of the process does not work perfectly, fusion will not occur. In contrast, in a fission reactor, fuel is added in bulk and the reactor controls the rate at which a chain reaction occurs; if the control mechanism fails, the reaction can run away and a meltdown can occur.

GigaOm reports that venture capital firms have been reluctant in the past to back nuclear energy projects because of the high costs.  There’s also been a more watchful eye on nuclear power following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month, a tragedy which impacted nuclear power plants in the country.

Bezos may have other reasons for his interest in nuclear power. Born in Albuquerque, Bezos’ grandfather served as a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

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