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Microsoft Goes Nuclear: Planning to Build its Own Reactors to Power its Datacenters

Microsoft ReactorBig tech is certainly getting BIG.

Microsoft has an interesting job posting:

Principal Program Manager Nuclear Technology: “We’re looking for a Principal Program Manager, Nuclear Technology, who will be responsible for maturing and implementing a global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) and microreactor energy strategy.  This senior position is tasked with leading the technical assessment for the integration of SMR and microreactors to power the datacenters that the Microsoft Cloud and AI reside on.”

That’s quite something.

At the physical layer, tech giants have long been on the cutting edge.  For example, Google’s Hamina, Finland datacenter pumps water in from the Bay of Finland to cool its hot servers, which is a lot more environmentally friendly than powering air conditioning.

Now Microsoft is going to use its own nuclear reactors for power.

Will these be the first privately-owned nuclear reactors?  Depends how you look at it.  In the US, there are scads of “privately owned reactors” but they’re all owned by energy companies.  In this case, Microsoft will not be selling juice but rather using it all internally.

Nuclear technology is controversial on the climate front.  No one contests that a reactor produces virtually no carbon emissions and a lot of power, so on that score it’s a dream.  But it leaves you with difficult-to-handle nuclear waste – indeed, all you can do is bury it in the ground for millennia.  And of course, the problem of accidents, which might release radioactive clouds.

Most people’s mental conception of nuclear accidents is Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukishima.  Those are all 1960s-1970s designs and nuclear power has come a long way since then.  Here, we’re talking about SMRs: Small Module Reactors.  They have much smaller footprints and smaller risk.  Of course, some would say that any risk is too much risk and nuclear power is too dangerous to use.

Another risk is nuclear proliferation.  You can’t break into a nuclear power plant, steal the nuclear material, and then create a bomb, at least not without an army of people to do the heist and your own uranium processing plants to breed fissile material from the uranium you stole.  But you can steal some rods and blow them up in a crowded area and cause mass radiation damage from a dirty bomb.

The SMR field is truly cutting edge.  The first ones were built only a couple years ago, and they’re still under licensing review in the US.  There’s tons of different designs out there and they have different trade-offs around rate of fuel burnup vs. waste produced, size vs. output, etc.  Bill Gates has long been a proponent and if anyone is going to push to use it privately, it’s not surprising that it’s him.

In theory, this could radically reduce Microsoft’s carbon footprint and improve their bottom line through cheap energy.  I could also see it being a boondoggle where government regulations and security become so heavy that they dump the project.

What do you think – is nuclear the future of the datacenter industry?


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