Representatives from an Everett-based company that wants to build the world's first nuclear fusion power plant are in Chelan County this week to take a closer look at one of its potential sites for the venture.

Helion Energy has already signed an agreement to provide fusion power to Microsoft in the region and the Chelan-Douglas Regional Port Authority has authorized the company to conduct a feasibility study for the plant in the Malaga area.

Helion spokesperson, Jessie Barton, says the company has been working on the idea since 2013.

"We've built six working fusion prototypes and each of those machines we've built have changed a little piece of the process to demonstrate a part of the process. Our last machine, which we called 'Trenta', showed that we can produce commercial conditions - that we could get enough heat generated and enough atoms fusing to make it viable to put on the grid."

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The Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) is conducting its own feasibility study on how power generated by a fusion plant could be interfaced with its existing electrical network.

Barton says there are a number of benefits to using the fusion process for generating power over the traditional method of nuclear fission.

"Most importantly, when fusion stops - it simply stops. There's no risk of supercriticality or runaway chain reactions like are possible in a regular nuclear power plant. When you turn the machine off, the machine is off. It's just that simple."

Barton says the fusion process also creates far less waste than traditional fission methods of nuclear power generation, and those wastes are less toxic and have half-lives that are vastly shorter.

She adds the Earth’s oceans contain enough fusion fuel (deuterium) to produce the zero-carbon energy for billions of years.

"For any fusion power plant, the amount of fuel you're using is very small. So just one gram of fusion fuel could power any of our houses for over a year. That's a very, very small amount of fuel. That means that, on the backside, the amount of waste that you're producing is also very, very small."

Helion's latest iteration for fusion-based power, "Polaris", is slated to be put to its ultimate test for commercial use later this year.

Last winter, Helion signed a contract to provide fusion power to the Mid-Columbia grid by 2028. The grid is utilized by the Chelan, Douglas, and Grant County PUDs.

The nearly-25-acre site where Helion will conduct its feasibility study is adjacent to the location of Microsoft's new data center.

The Port says Helion's presence could total an investment of $600 million for the region and result in the creation of over 100 new jobs.

The idea for locating the plant near Malaga was hatched during a Clean Energy Expo hosted by the Chelan PUD last year.

Helion says it will likely select a site for where to build its first fusion plant by sometime next year and plans to start construction quickly thereafter.

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