As AI booms, land near nuclear power plants becomes hot real estate

Cheap low-carbon energy? What's not to love...

The land surrounding a nuclear power plant might not sound like prime real estate, but as more bit barns seek to trim costs, it's poised to become a rather hot commodity.

All datacenters are energy-hungry but with more watt-greedy AI workloads on the horizon, nuclear power has fresh appeal, especially for hyperscalers. Such a shift in power also does wonders for greenwashing narratives around net-zero operations. While not technically renewable, nuclear power does have the benefit of being carbon-free, not to mention historically reliable — with a few notable exceptions of course.

All of these are purported benefits cited by startup NE Edge, which has been fighting for more than a year to be able to build a pair of AI datacenters adjacent to a 2GW Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, Connecticut.

According to the Hartford Courant, NE Energy has secured $1.6 billion to construct the switching station and bit barns, which will span 1.2 million square feet in total. NE Energy will reportedly spend an equivalent sum on between 25,000 and 35,000 servers. Considering the price of GPU systems from Nvidia, AMD, and Intel, we suspect that those figures probably refer to the number of GPUs. We've asked NE Edge for more information.

NE Energy has faced local challenges getting the project approved because residents are concerned the project would end up increasing the cost of electricity. The facilities will reportedly consume as much as 13 percent of the plant's output.

The project's president Thomas Quinn attempted to quell concerns, arguing that by connecting directly to the plants, NE Energy will be able to negotiate prices that make building such a power hungry facility viable in Connecticut. NE Energy has also committed to paying a 12.08 percent premium to the town on top of what it pays Dominion for power, along with other payments said to total more than $1  billion over the next 30 years.

But after initially denying the sale of land to NE Edge back in January over a lack of information regarding the datacenter project, it's reported that the town council has yet to tell the company what information it is after.

Taking AI nuclear

While NE Energy vies for approval, other datacenter operators have already furthered nuclear site ambitions or are laying the groundwork to do so. Earlier this month, Amazon Web Services (AWS) agreed to purchase Cumulus Data's atomic datacenters from $650 million.

The datacenter complex AWS is eyeing is owned by Talen Energy is colocated alongside the 2.5 gigawatt Susquehanna nuclear power plant in northeast Pennsylvania. Of that, AWS will have the opportunity to purchase up to 960 megawatts of capacity to support a sprawling datacenter campus. But, if it doesn't need it, it's only required to purchase 480 megawatts of power.

AWS is far from the only cloud provider weighing the nuclear option. Microsoft is actively exploring the use of small modular reactors (SMRs), with the idea being that rather than build datacenters adjacent to existing reactors, it can install tiny modular ones to power existing datacenters.

It should be noted that despite Microsoft hiring folks to explore the application of the tech, no functioning SMRs have been built yet.

Others exploring SMRs include Standard Power, Green Energy Partners, and Bahnhof. But until SMR vendors, like NuScale, are ready for prime time, there are still more than 400 reactors around the globe to collocate with. ®

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