Microsoft Wants To Use 'Small Modular Nuclear Reactors' To Power Its AI-Related Data Centers


Data centers and servers consume a lot of power, and uses a lot more electricity than most things on Earth.

Microsoft is a tech giant, and is known for having a number of green, low-carbon initiatives in place.

The company has invested in renewable energy sources, designing sustainable products and services, helping users reduce their carbon footprints, and aims to become carbon negative by 2030.

This time, in yet another attempt to lower the carbon emission, the company posted a job for a principal program manager of nuclear technology to "be responsible for maturing and implementing a global small modular reactor (SMR) and microreactor energy strategy."

A man walks between an isle full of servers inside a Microsoft data center.
A man walks between an isle full of servers inside a Microsoft data center.

The new hire shall join the energy innovation team at Microsoft, working with P. Todd Noe, the director of nuclear technologies engineering at Microsoft. Noe said in a post on LinkedIn:

"This is not just a job, it is a challenge. By joining us, you will be part of a global movement that is transforming the way we produce and consume energy. You will also have the chance to grow your skills, advance your career, and make an impact on millions of lives."

The job listing states that:

"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. They will maintain a clear and adaptable roadmap for the technology’s integration, diligently select and manage technology partners and solutions, and constantly evaluate the business implications of progress and implementation.

The ideal candidate will have experience in the energy industry and a deep understanding of nuclear technologies and regulatory affairs. This role will also be responsible for research and developing other precommercial energy technologies.

You will be working with people from many different teams and backgrounds requiring an open mind-set. You must be able to identify and partner with other groups to achieve joint or complimentary goals. A proven track record of successfully managing projects, driving contractual improvements through service agreements and lower cost are skillsets needed to be demonstrated, resulting in measurable impact to be successful in this role."

Microsoft posted a job for a principal program manager of nuclear technology.
Microsoft posted a job for a principal program manager of nuclear technology.

According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:

"The next major wave of computing is being born, as the Microsoft Cloud turns the world’s most advanced AI models into a new computing platform."

"We are committed to helping our customers use our platforms and tools to do more with less today and innovate for the future in the new era of AI."

Despite power grids are available worldwide, power availability has become a critical bottleneck for data center builders and delayed projects around the globe.

And this is most notably in the sector's densest regions. And it's the lack of clean power that makes it even more challenging for data centers that are trying to shift to renewables.

Nuclear energy is seen as a proper solution because it's generally safe, and is often considered a form of low-carbon or "green" energy because it produces electricity with minimal greenhouse gas emissions during its operation.

Constellation's Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant.
Constellation's Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant.

Reactors for nuclear work by splitting atoms, a process called fission. When this happens, a chain reaction that takes place spits radioactive materials into smaller atoms.

This process produces a lot of heat, and nuclear reactors are designed to control the chain reaction so that it produces a steady stream of heat to run a turbine to generate electricity.

Because of this, nuclear power is a low-carbon source of electricity.

While it does produce hazardous waste that is radioactive, nuclear reactors does not contribute to climate change.

Unlike fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, nuclear power plants don't release carbon dioxide (CO2) when generating electricity.

But instead of relying on traditional nuclear power plants, which have often come in over-budget and long-delayed, Microsoft wants to use small modular reactors, which are being pitched as a way to deploy smaller, cheaper, and faster modular reactors.

Despite the word "small," a small modular reactors are considered advanced nuclear reactors. While they have a power capacity of up to 300 MWe per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors, it's still huge.

A 300 MWe is approximately the same amount of electricity generated by a small coal-fired power plant, which can power a city of about 100,000 people, and power at least one large industrial facility, such as a steel mill or a paper mill.

But unlike coal-fired powerplant and such, an SMR can produce electricity any significant carbon footprint.

Microreactors on the hand, are significantly smaller, in which they can only produce about 10 MWe per unit. They're usually deployed to power only remote communities and places.

An illustration of a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR).
An illustration of a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR).

Before this, Microsoft procured Clean Energy Credits (CECs) from Canadian energy firm Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to power its data centers. The credits include power from traditional nuclear sources, but could expand to include others.

Microsoft wants to make one of its data centers in Boydton, Virginia, to be powered by up to 35% nuclear energy, under an agreement with Constellation.

The nuclear power shall complement Microsoft’s wind and solar purchases, to bring the data center's operation to close to 100% carbon-free electricity around the clock.

Microsoft has also signed a deal with private U.S. nuclear fusion company Helion Energy to provide it with nuclear-sourced electricity in about five years.