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Nuclear-powered datacenter throws open doors to tenants this year

Hit up Cumulus Data if you want your racks running on low-cost, zero-carbon energy

US-based Cumulus Data says it is constructing a datacenter campus adjacent to a nuclear power station in order to directly obtain low-cost, zero-carbon energy for prospective tenants.

The business is a subsidiary of Talen Energy, the power company that operates the nuclear plant at the Berwick site in northeast Pennsylvania. It started building at the campus in 2021, and has just confirmed its first 48MW datacenter on the site is now complete and available for customer leasing from Q3, with various fiber connections available, it said.

A personal frustration to me has been the over-reliance on renewable energy credits in our industry. These are not a long-term solution. The industry needs to accelerate the use of green (or greener) power...

Touted as the first facility of its kind in the US, datacenters at the campus will be directly connected to the 2.5 gigawatt Susquehanna power plant "without intermediation by legacy electric transmission and distribution utilities," which the company claims will allow it to offer the most attractive energy rates in the country.

"Our flagship Cumulus Susquehanna datacenter campus is positioned to welcome its first tenant and commence commercial operations this year," said Alejandro Hernandez, CEO of both Cumulus Data and Talen Energy.

Hernandez claimed the special arrangement at Susquehanna would help to solve the energy "trilemma" which Cumulus defines as the rapidly increasing consumer demand for zero-carbon, low-cost, and reliable electricity by datacenter customers.

The site is expected to eventually accommodate up to 475MW of datacenter capacity, Cumulus said. Building One was estimated to cost $350 million, and the company said the whole site is expected to create investment opportunities exceeding $1 billion over time.

Connecting a datacenter directly to a nuclear power plant may sound bizarre, but carbon footprints and spiraling energy costs are two factors that are increasingly of concern to organizations operating a lot of datacenter infrastructure, and nuclear offers a reliable zero-carbon energy supply.

"Nuclear power has its place in helping the datacenter decrease its greenhouse gas emissions," said Vladimir Galabov, head of cloud and datacenter research at Omdia.

"A personal frustration to me has been the over-reliance on renewable energy credits (RECs) in our industry. These are not a long-term solution. The industry needs to accelerate the use of green (or greener) power."

Galabov recently co-authored a report on the matter, which puts forward small modular reactors (SMRs) as a viable solution for powering datacenters.

"There certainly are some long-term factors that need to be considered by the industry such as disposal of nuclear waste and availability of personnel to operate and maintain the SMR. We think these can be resolved with a focused strategy involving multi-party partnerships between SMR vendors, DC operators and governments," Galabov said.

However, IDC Europe senior research director Andrew Buss questioned whether nuclear energy would really be a low-cost solution, although it would definitely be low carbon.

"Locating a datacenter next to a nuclear power station is interesting, but there are a limited number of them, so it isn't the most scalable solution for the datacenter industry," he told The Register.

Buss also said that a lot of the zero-carbon industry is about credits, and this would likely to continue to be the way forward for datacenter operators.

"Long term, the best solution is to continue to invest in renewables," he said.

Talen Energy was cleared to emerge from Chapter 11 protection in December, according to MarketWatch, after putting together $1.9 billion of new equity financing through a common equity rights offering. ®

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