From the gilded screens of Hollywood, Harry Hamlin achieved international recognition in 1984’s Clash Of the Titans as the beloved Demi-God Perseus alongside Tinseltown legends, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Michael Kusac. Since then, Hamlin has been lauded for his performances in shows such as LA Law & Mad Men.
“But what a lot of people don’t know is that while yes, he is an accomplished benchmark name in Hollywood. Harry Hamlin, in fact, is a man of science and the future.”
Hamlin’s foray into the booming industry of energy may pose as a collective surprise for a lot of people. But this is not entirely unfamiliar to those aware of his interests. As the scion of Chauncey Jerome Hamlin Jr. & Chauncey Hamlin the Elder. Harry ended up founding TAE Technologies in 1998 (Tri Alpha Technologies) with partners; Dr Hendrik J.Monkhorst, and Dr Norman Rostoker.
Between the three of them, their goal was clear and advanced for its time then, and it was simple: To provide clean energy solutions for a bright future.
Nuclear Fusion was something that was definitely unheard of during its time, especially when a young Harry Hamlin, in the 70s, found out about this one significant fact that is defining our current global environmental situation–which is Climate Change.
From partnering up with the likes of Nobel Peace Laureates, prominent tech companies such as Google, and Buzz Aldrin — Harry Hamlin talks more about the future of the environment, how it all began, and why it’s better late than never to gear up for big change.
You’ve worn so many hats throughout your life, actor, author, father and eventually entrepreneur. Now, I just want to ask how did your interest in Fusion Energy begin?
Then in 1980, I was living in Rome, and I went to a cocktail party at the consulate. And everyone there was speaking in a language that I didn’t understand. Then a man walked up to me, and he heard me speak English.
And he said, “Can I tell you about this project I’m working on? It is this new way to make electricity that’s completely clean, pollution-free and non-radioactive.” He turned out to be a Serbian nuclear physicist, who was part of this big lab in Princeton, New Jersey, where all of the plasma physicists and fusion scientists were located.
“He talked my ear off for about an hour and then asked for my address, I gave it to him. Then he sent me a lot of material that he published on this new invention of his. And then I kept in touch with him. Only because the next few years, I worked at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, I played Hamlet, in 1982 and then Krauss in 1983, also his lab was just around the corner.”
So he kept coming over to the theatre and, once again, talking my ear off about this thing. It later became clear to me that he was on to something and that if he was, then it would be the perfect solution for the incoming onslaught of climate change while also tackling the dependency on foreign oil, electricity and all that.
What made you want to venture out in this particular industry, especially as an Angel Investor?
Tying it in with what I found out, in 1990-91, he moved his lab from Princeton to Irvine, California to collaborate with the head of the department at UC Irvine. That’s when he asked me to be on the board of directors of a company that he had formed to finance his work.
“And I was very sceptical at the time about this idea because it sounded too good to be true. I mean, how could it be that there could be a new way to make electricity that’s completely pollution-free, clean, and cheap? It just sounded like rainbows and unicorns, right? But when he asked, I reluctantly joined the board.”
On the day of that first board meeting with all of us in one room, he introduced me to my colleagues. The first one was Murray Gell-Mann, who had just won the Nobel Prize for discovering quarks, which are the smallest constituent of matter.
And, the second guy he introduced me was Glenn Seaborg, who had won the Nobel Prize for discovering Plutonium, and who had run the Department of Energy for the United States under five presidents. And then he introduced me to Buzz Aldrin, One of the first men to walk on the moon, who just so happened to be on the board.
“So two Nobel laureates, and one of the first guys to walk on the moon, were in the room with me, and I said, wait a minute. If these guys are here, this guy might just have something and it turned out that he did.”
But due to several reasons, we ended up moving in a different direction with Paul Allen from Microsoft that eventually led to us starting a different company that would fund Norman Rostoker’s research, which you now see as TAE (Tri Alpha Technologies)
We are in the time of sustainability, and a lot of research has been around, especially since a significant majority of corporations are scrambling to put their stamp on renewable energy projects, some relating to solar and wind. Where does fusion energy come into play and what makes it different?
Okay, so that’s a lot to unpack in that question. But you mentioned some big oil companies there. There’s a TV commercial going on right here in the United States now, by Chevron and they actually mentioned that they’re getting into nuclear fusion as one of their projects and that’s us. We’ve been talking to Chevron for years. So when they talk about nuclear fusion, they’re talking about TAE. Chevron has been circling us so has Shell and BP. All these companies have been around us for years because they know that ultimately, the way we’re going to go in the world is with fusion.
We all know that while Solar and Wind energy are wonderful solutions there are certain drawbacks behind them. For example, my home is entirely solar and I have Tesla batteries that store the electricity. But you know, there’s the night risk for solar — so you have to store the electricity in order to use it. The same goes for wind, what happens when the wind doesn’t blow? you don’t have electricity to power things up.
“Now, the long term solution for industrial-scale energy, which is the kind that we’re going to need on the planet, and that right now is being satisfied by burning coal and natural gas. this can be replaced by a new energy source, like nuclear fusion, you know, or nuclear fission. But nuclear fission has its own drawbacks because nuclear fission creates waste products that nobody knows what to do with.”
Whereas, at TAE, we have the technology that would help dispose of that waste product. So in terms of answering that question about, you know, wind and solar, which are great, and they’re great residential, they’re great for relatively small scale requirements.
But when you get into making aluminium, or desalinating water or doing all a lot of the things that require massive amounts of electricity, like smelting steel, you know, these are things that require energy that cannot be supplied by wind and solar, they can only be supplied to either burning coal, or natural gas, or nuclear fusion or nuclear fission.
And hopefully, it’ll be nuclear fusion, and it’ll be Norman’s nuclear fusion reactor, because our nuclear fusion is non-radioactive, whereas all the other people who are working on this are using radioactive fuels, like tritium.
Where do you think the future will go, in terms of Fusion Energy being the new power source? Where do you think the future will go, in terms of Fusion Energy being the new power source? How do you think the transition phase will go? Are we at the cusp of changing our energy source or are we not there yet?
Well, first of all, we’re 50 years too late. Unfortunately, you know, climate change has happened, it’s unstoppable. It’s going to get worst from here. We’re going to figure out how to adapt to it, to try to mitigate the speed and the acceleration of climate change.
“I mean, we’re seeing already it, year after year, we’re seeing huge storms, floods, fires, hurricanes, and these things are all going to become bigger every year, you know, we’re seeing it. There might be a couple of years where it slows down a little bit, but then it’ll accelerate in a significant way.”
That’s why we should move to fusion energy. And the sooner the better. In our case, you know, we believe that we’ll be able to produce electrons within the next decade. But it’s still, a ways away from that. They said that fusion is 30 years away. Well, we’ve been working on it for 23 years — so maybe we can do it in seven.
What are your thoughts on the current problem of existing energy businesses and the impact that they have on the overall pollution of the planet?
Well, they see the handwriting on the wall, not only are they aware and have been aware of the kind of effect that those companies have had on our climate, but they’re also aware that we’re going to have to shift to something other than fossil fuels.
Oil will always be needed for things like plastics, which are also very powerful for the planet. But oil has a lot of different uses, aside from making gasoline, kerosene and all that stuff. But they know that they’re going to have to shift to some other power source, and all these companies are in the power business.
For example, they want to be involved with us because we are in our business, and they want to make sure that they are on whatever gravy train we are at so they are able to catch on to it one way or another.
“The oil companies are very interested in what we’re doing. So I would say that public opinion, has shifted dramatically over the last 10 or 15 years. People are now very aware that oil companies have been spewing massive amounts of co2 into our very thin atmosphere, and a lot of people don’t realize it. “
Another way of saying this is if you got on the treadmill and set it to five and ran for about 45 minutes, that’s how thick our atmosphere is, I mean, it’s a very thin atmosphere, and yet, we are just pumping tons of massive amounts of co2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Your company, TAE (Tri Alpha) Technologies has been making breakthroughs with power grids and fusion reactors that are an amazing feat all on its own. Your new project, Copernicus is set to come out soon. What were the obstacles you encountered and what are hopes on the technological breakthroughs that could potentially happen with the Copernicus fusion reactor that couldn’t be done with Norman?
Initially, Norman Rostoker’s idea, which we call Norman’s Conjecture was that he could do this linearly in a small compact accelerator, and using a thing called field reversed configuration of magnetic fields, contained reaction and allow those conditions to occur.
And the two conditions that we have achieved so far, which have proved our principle given us proof of principle, one, we proved that we could maintain the reaction long and hot enough to get to fusion. Since then we have proved that. So now, since we’ve proved those two elements of Norman’s conjecture, all we have to do is scale it up, which is going to cost about a billion dollars to do.
“So that’s what we’re our effort right now. Copernicus is the fifth iteration of the fifth device that we’ve done. And Copernicus will demonstrate to us that we absolutely can scale – we already know we can because Google has been our partner for seven years. And Google has been running all of our diagnostics through their algorithms, using the most advanced AI in the world. And they have basically concluded that it’s just a scaling problem now. So Copernicus will be the next machine and then the final machine, which will be a pilot power plant. In beta, that will be called Da Vinci.”
One of the biggest obstacles we have is funding and that’s staffing. Because a lot of the engineering that we’re doing is a lot of extremely arcane physics. There are other companies like Google and Apple and big tech companies, that are just grabbing these people when they’ve graduated from Stanford, or from Yale and they’re putting them into their workforce. And we don’t have the wherewithal to pay that what Google can pay. And these people work for us, just because they think fusion is the future. And they are so happy to be there because they’re doing something that is going to be so great for the world.