December 11, 2023

Microsoft Considering Nuclear Reactors for Its Data Centers

A recent job posting from Microsoft indicates that the company might be considering using small nuclear reactors to power its data centers.

The tech giant is looking for a qualified nuclear technology program manager with “experience in the energy industry and a deep understanding of nuclear technologies and regulatory affairs”.

It is already known that Microsoft is working with at least one 3rd party nuclear energy provider to reduce the carbon footprint. While the company did not announce if its nuclear program has a specific goal, it is quite likely that some of Microsoft’s data centers might be powered by nuclear energy in the near future.

Microsoft’s Focus Is on Small Modular Reactors, the Job Posting Indicates

“This senior position is tasked with leading the technical assessment for the integration of SMR and microreactors to power the data centers that the Microsoft Cloud and AI reside on”, the job reads.

As for the job responsibilities, it states that the nuclear expert “will maintain a clear and adaptable roadmap for the technology’s integration”.

The job posting makes it quite clear that Microsoft is focused on small modular reactors (SMRs) and microreactors. SMRs are much smaller than facility-scale reactors but can still generate large amounts of power sustainably.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently certified the first Small Modular Reactor for use in the US. Taking up only a third of the space needed by a standard nuclear power plant, it generates 50MW of power.

Microreactors, on the other hand, are even smaller reactors – potentially small enough for mobile applications. The power output might be anything between 1MW and 20MW. Civilian applications of microreactors are still in the research and testing phase, while NASA is working on developing small power plants that can be used in space.

In the future, however, microreactors might be the key to producing the energy necessary for data centers where SMRs are unnecessarily large and powerful.

Why Is Microsoft Going Nuclear?

The tech giant’s growing attention towards nuclear energy makes perfect sense considering the array of major AI projects it is working on. Data centers already need a lot of power to run, and the energy needs are skyrocketing as Microsoft’s AI ambitions grow. Training large language models (LLMs) has already proven to be an extremely power-intensive process with a large carbon footprint.

Nuclear energy appears to be the most practical solution for the amount of energy needed by data centers.

Microsoft’s increasing energy needs and the consequent environmental impact can potentially thwart the company from achieving its climate goals. This has understandably forced the tech giant to seek out cleaner energy sources.

In June, Microsoft signed a deal with Constellation Energy, a Virginia-based nuclear power plant operator, to power one of its data centers in the region. In May, the tech giant also entered an agreement to buy electricity from Helion Energy, a company that promises to get the world’s first commercial nuclear fusion generator in operation by 2028.

While nuclear energy doesn’t produce any greenhouse gasses, Microsoft’s decision to power its data centers using nuclear reactors raises environmental concerns associated with handling radioactive waste.

Another potential challenge for the company is building a uranium supply chain. It now remains to be seen how Microsoft plans to work its way around the roadblocks.

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