US Nuclear Corp. is ready for the next step in space exploration, which includes quick trips to the moon and larger voyages to Mars.
The Canoga Park manufacturer of radiation detection equipment has made a strategic investment in a Tustin company that is developing thermonuclear fusion technology.
The firm has exclusive rights to make and market the fusion reactors, which its partner, Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies Inc., or MIFTI, plans to commercialize. The technology has applications in the development of radiopharmaceutical products used in nuclear medicine procedures; clean energy; and to power spaceships to Mars and beyond.
Robert Goldstein, chief executive of publicly traded US Nuclear, said that making the reactors helps the company in several ways, including building up its sales volume. Its stockholders prefer that the company make a profit doing something exciting, Goldstein said, and a low-cost alternative energy source would fill that goal.
“It also helps get the staff excited, too,” Goldstein added. “Everybody is better if they feel they are doing something worthwhile and exciting.”
Two years ago, US Nuclear bought a 10 percent stake in MIFTEC Laboratories Inc., a subsidiary of MIFTI. It also has a smaller percentage of ownership in the parent company.
“That’s OK because MIFTI’s eventual valuation could be in the trillions some day so even a teeny amount is still a good bet in our opinion,” Goldstein said.
Gerald Simmons, chief executive and co-founder, along with Hafiz Rahman, of MIFTI said it was Richard Cavalli, who does public relations for the business, who introduced him to Goldstein about three years ago.
“He is a smart guy and realized the potential of the technology,” Simmons said of Goldstein. “He came to us on the recommendation of Richard to see if we could work out a partnership as a strategic investor.”
Goldstein said that if the technology works, US Nuclear would have two revenue streams from its investment with MIFTI and MIFTEC – one from making the reactors and another from sales commissions.
If not for thermonuclear fusion, there would be no universe.
The sun and all the stars are powered by thermonuclear fusion and so what MIFTI is essentially doing with its Staged Z-pinch technology is duplicating that process albeit on a much smaller scale, Simmons said.
So what goes into making a fusion generator?
“We are talking about plasma physics in a closed container,” Goldstein said. “The deal with all this is you try to build up a high temperature and high pressure inside the container.”
In other words, added Simmons, thermonuclear fusion is achieved by creating extremely high temperatures.
A high electrical current is taken and directed toward the elements of deuterium and tritium. That creates an incredible amount of energy that heats up the plasma to thousands if not millions of degrees, Simmons said, adding, “That creates steam which turns the turbine and the turbine creates the electricity.”
The reactor is powered by hydrogen taken from seawater, which Simmons called abundant and cheap. It produces no nuclear waste.
The Staged Z-pinch concept was tested at the University of California – Irvine and later at the University of Nevada – Reno by applying a 1 million amp current to its prototype reactor. These tests produced a temperature similar to the sun’s core and resulted in the fusion of hydrogen atoms and a neutron production of greater than 10 billion, Simmons said.
“MIFTI’s successful achievement of the production of 10 billion neutrons through thermonuclear fusion technology is the first for any privately held company in the world,” Simmons explained.
The company had hoped to do additional testing this summer at a facility in California operated by L3Harris Technologies, a defense contractor based in Melbourne, Fla., which has the capability to generate 4 million amps of power. But funding those experiments has proved problematic, Simmons said.
“We are negotiating with several investors, but we don’t have a firm commitment to get on that machine,” he said.
“Hopefully that will happen within a few months and that will show the world it can make a lot of neutrons,” Goldstein added.
The technology has several timelines for commercialization. The reactor could produce radiopharmaceutical products in months; clean energy could be produced in about three years; and powering spaceships to Mars and beyond is at least five to seven years off, Simmons said.
Goldstein has not been in contact with anyone from NASA about the use of thermonuclear fusion to power any spaceships. But Rahman, Simmons’s co-founder, was invited by the space agency in November to speak at the Advanced Interstellar Propulsion Workshop in Wichita, Kan.
“He presented that to NASA, and they were very enthusiastic about it and want us to keep in touch with them,” Simmons said. “Ultimately, Rahman’s ‘StarTrek’ propulsion system ideas were included in a proposal NASA presented to the U.S. Congress.”
The company would want to do a similar partnership as it has with US Nuclear with one of the big private space companies, such as SpaceX in Hawthorne, Virgin Galactic in Mojave or Blue Origin Federation LLC, the Kent, Wash.-based company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com Inc.
“Whether it be Bezos or (Virgin Galactic’s Sir Richard) Branson or (SpaceX’s Elon) Musk, they might be interested in getting away from chemical (propulsion),” Simmons said.
A fusion-propelled spacecraft can fly in the vacuum of space near the speed of light, he said.
“You can really decrease the time it takes to get from point A to point B in space,” he added.
For his part, Goldstein said he is looking to acquire a new factory building in order to build the fusion generators when the time comes. It would need to have high ceilings so that it can accommodate overhead cranes to move the material around, he said.
“We will need to put on more staff and upgrade our radiation license,” Goldstein added. “It (the license) allows us to have radioactive material on site and to use it for measurement and for testing,”
US Nuclear trades on the over-the-counter market. Its stock hit a high for the year of $1.33 on Feb. 14. It has gained about 13 percent since the start of the year through June 11. The stock closed at $0.79 on June 17.
US Nuclear has three subsidiaries: Technical Associates in Canoga Park, which makes radiation detection equipment; Overhoff Technologies in Milford, Ohio, which specializes in tritium detection equipment; and Electronic Control Concepts, also in Milford, which makes voltmeters to check industrial and medical X-ray machines....