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Swedish datacenter operator wants to go nuclear

Harnessing a Small Modular Reactor could also power 30,000 surrounding homes, Bahnhof CEO claims

A datacenter in Stockholm could be powered by a small nuclear reactor in future, if a Swedish internet service provider gets its way.

Bahnhof, which apparently used to host WikiLeaks in one of its datacenters, is understood to be investigating the possibility of installing a small modular reactor (SMR) at a datacenter being built in Hjorthagen, a district of Sweden's capital.

According to a report in The Times newspaper, Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung said the reactor could also provide enough power for 30,000 households in the surrounding area, and could be ready to go online within just a couple of years if given the go-ahead.

Karlung told local TV news SVT Nyheter that it might be considered "provocative" to want to build a nuclear power station in Stockholm, but claimed there are advantages to building small power plants where required.

Datacenters in Sweden currently consume 3 terawatt hours (TWh) a year, according to SVT Nyheter, and this is estimated to double to 6TWh within just a couple of years.

It isn't just Sweden where this approach is being considered. In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has recently finalized rules allowing construction of nuclear small modular reactors (SMRs), although not specifically for powering datacenters.

The Register last year reported that engineering company Rolls-Royce was on the lookout for sites in the UK to deploy SMRs, as well as a location for a factory to build the new reactors.

The UK government previously announced an Advanced Nuclear Fund of up to £385 million as part of its 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, up to £215 million of which is for SMRs, to develop domestic small-scale power plant technology.

A report published by analyst Omdia at the end of last year made the case for using SMRs to power datacenters. It suggested the sweet spot for SMRs will likely be for facilities exceeding 100MW in capacity, although smaller datacenters could partner with local utilities and other power-hungry industrial sites to make it a viable option – as Bahnhof appears to be proposing.

SMRs are considerably smaller in scale than the large nuclear plants most people are familiar with, Omdia claimed, and pose far less risk.

However, the biggest challenge in getting these up and running will be "convincing people in industry and where these things are going to [be deployed], that it is safe, and viable, and environmentally friendly," one of the report authors commented.

There could also be downsides to this kind of technology. Another report published last year suggested that mini nuclear reactors such as SMRs might generate up to 35 times more waste to produce the same amount of power as a traditional nuclear plant. ®

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