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Microsoft signs historic agreement with Helion Energy to buy fusion power

Microsoft signed an historic agreement Wednesday with Washington-based nuclear fusion company Helion Energy to buy electricity from its fusion plant.

Nuclear fusion company Helion Energy has signed a deal with Microsoft to provide the tech giant with electricity from its first-ever fusion plant.

The Washington-based company said the plant is expected to be online by 2028 and will target power generation of 50 megawatts or greater after a one-year ramp-up period. One megawatt can supply up to about 1,000 U.S. homes on a typical day.

"This collaboration represents a significant milestone for Helion and the fusion industry as a whole," Helion CEO David Kirtley said. "We are grateful for the support of a visionary company like Microsoft. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are confident in our ability to deliver the world’s first fusion power facility."

Brad Smith, vice chair and president at Microsoft Corp, said Helion's work "supports our own long-term clean energy goals and will advance the market to establish a new, efficient method for bringing more clean energy to the grid, faster." 

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The companies did not disclose financial or timing details of the power purchase agreement, or which Microsoft facilities would get fusion-generated electricity. Helion has raised more than $570 million in private capital, with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman providing $375 million in 2021.

The deal comes as government labs and more than 30 companies are racing to generate power from fusion, which could one day help the world slash emissions linked to climate change. Unlike today's fission reactors, it could generate power without producing long-lasting radioactive waste. 

Fusion occurs when two light atoms such as hydrogen, heated to extreme temperatures, fuse into one heavier atom, releasing large amounts of energy. 

So far, earthly fusion reactions have been momentary and suck up more energy than they release, but companies have raised about $5 billion in private funding in the quest to achieve net energy gain.

Polaris, Helion's seventh-generation machine, should come online next year and demonstrate electricity generation, using pulsed high-power magnet technologies to achieve fusion, Kirtley said. I

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Helion still needs design and construction approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as local permits. 

But the fusion industry was cheered by the NRC's decision last month to separate fusion regulation from that of fission, a move backers say could reduce timelines for license approvals. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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