According to a job posting for a principal program manager who will lead the company’s nuclear energy strategy, Microsoft believes next-generation nuclear reactors can fuel its data centres and AI goals.
The ecological effect and the causing of a climate change
Data centres already consume a lot of electricity, which might jeopardise the company’s climate goals unless clean energy sources are found. AI that consumes a lot of energy makes this an even bigger problem for the corporation to overcome. Last week’s Microsoft Surface event was dominated by artificial intelligence.
Nuclear energy produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Even yet, it might open up a whole new can of worms in terms of dealing with radioactive waste and developing a uranium supply chain. Although the significance of nuclear energy in combating climate change is still being disputed, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has long been a supporter of the technology.
Microsoft is searching for someone who can develop a strategy for small modular reactors (SMR). The focus of the nuclear industry these days is on next-generation reactors. These modular reactors are said to be easier and cheaper to build than their earlier, considerably larger predecessors. In instance, after seven years of delays, the last big nuclear reactor built in the United States eventually came online this summer, approximately $17 billion over budget.
In January, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified an SMR design for the first time, allowing utilities to select the design when seeking for a new power plant licence. And it has the potential to bring in a new era for nuclear energy.
Even still, if Microsoft wants to rely on SMRs to power the data centres where its cloud and AI reside, some hitches must be worked out. SMRs require more highly enriched uranium fuel, known as HALEU, than standard reactors do today. Russia has been the world’s primary supplier of HALEU thus far. There is a movement in the United States to establish a local uranium supply chain, which communities near uranium mines and mills are already opposing. Then there’s the issue of nuclear waste, which even a fleet of SMRs may generate in substantial quantities and which the US is still figuring out how to store long term.
Microsoft did not respond to queries from The Verge about its intentions for next-generation nuclear power or how it planned to deal with the issues that may arise. Gates is also the creator and chair of TerraPower, an incubator that is developing SMR concepts. The firm “does not currently have any agreements to sell reactors to Microsoft,” according to CNBC. According to Axios, Microsoft has already agreed to purchase clean energy credits from Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation, which is on track to be the first utility in North America to deploy an SMR. The job listing was originally reported on by DCD, a website that publishes material about data centres, last week.
Microsoft meets Helion
Microsoft has also struck an unprecedented agreement to acquire electricity from Helion, a startup creating an even more futuristic fusion power plant. Nuclear fission, or the splitting apart of atoms, is used to create power in both traditional nuclear reactors and SMR designs. Nuclear fusion is the process of pushing atoms together in the same way that stars do to generate their own energy.
A fusion reactor is a sort of holy grail in that it would provide abundant clean energy while not producing the same radioactive waste as nuclear fission. However, despite decades of research and recent discoveries, most scientists believe a fusion power plant is at least decades away — and the world cannot afford to wait that long to address climate change.
OpenAI CEO and ChatGPT developer Sam Altman is among Helion’s supporters. This year, Microsoft expanded its “multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment” in OpenAI. It stated last week that it would integrate OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 picture generator into Bing Chat. “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,” Microsoft chair and CEO Satya Nadella says in a job posting for a nuclear technology principal programme manager.