back to article Blockchain biz goes nuclear: Standard Power wants to use NuScale reactors for DCs

Colocation outfit Standard Power hopes to power two new datacenters in Ohio and Pennsylvania entirely by miniaturized nuclear reactors from NuScale. Standard Power makes no secret it focuses on providing datacenter services to not just those into AI workloads and other kinds of high-performance computing but also those …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    This is just getting ridiculous. Maybe it's time to decide energy shouldn't be wasted in this way.

    1. Stu J

      100%

      Figure out some way of taxing Proof-of-Work energy usage so punitively that they just won't bother. And if they try to get around it by generating their own energy from polluting sources, hit them with some kind of even more punitive emissions tax. Kill Bitcoin and all similar Proof-of-Work crypto-bullshit already.

      1. Catkin Silver badge

        Is this a hypothetical or do you really trust politicians to draft the legislation sensibly? Looking at the online safety bill, we'd be lucky if they didn't end up banning gaming or even personal computer ownership.

        1. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

          Maybe we should just outsource it to some bloke in Florida.</sarc>

    2. MatthewSt

      Granted it's Sunday evening as I write this, but that much power represents just over 7% of the whole of the UK's usage at this moment

    3. Rol

      Not just that, what about the physical security of those SMR's? Every deployed SMR is currently surrounded by military personnel ready to blast into atoms anyone coming near them with so much as a grimace on their face.

      These SMR's will be protected by what? Mall level security?

      I can see the locals, keen not to have a mini Two Mile Island on their doorstep, insisting they go elsewhere.

      1. Catkin Silver badge

        If someone were suicidal enough to want to crack open a reactor to spread radioactive material around then there's plenty of intensely radioactive sources with less security than the average bank. Worse, these materials might be able to be removed covertly, while a reactor that goes offline would be noticed in short order.

        Remember that TMI released an absolutely miniscule amount of material and an SMR meltdown would probably look like SL1; that did actually result in more deaths (all 3 operators vs zero for TMI) but I would argue that an attack by suicidal terrorists would result in operator deaths too and, in an SMR, they wouldn't be walking around on top of the control face.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          This is the problem, there are people suicidal and stupid enough to crack open and spread fissile material around.

          1. Catkin Silver badge

            I don't doubt it but the SMRs don't seriously raise the levels of risk if you're worried about a dirty bomb (there's already much less protected material on hand across the world) or a nuke (as they'd still need to enrich).

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Facepalm

        "I can see the locals, keen not to have a mini Two Mile Island on their doorstep, insisting they go elsewhere."

        Three Mile Island.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Two Mile Island is smaller. Or is that less? Or fewer?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Since FTX supports it...

      What can possibly go wrong?

    5. bazza Silver badge

      >This is just getting ridiculous. Maybe it's time to decide energy shouldn't be wasted in this way.

      Absolutely agreed.

      Missing the Whole Point of Distributed Ledgers / Block Chains

      Worse, it's defeating the whole point of proof of work block chains anyway. The whole idea is that there's a large number of separate participants, all doing the work, all agreeing on what the block chain content actually is. There is a majority vote amongst participants; that's how bad actors are detected and defeated. Trouble is that the vote is valid if, and only if, one assumes that the participants are fully independent.

      If you go and lump most of the miners altogether into (for example) just one or two data centres, nuclear powered or not, then in effect there's only one or two voters. Each is perhaps comprised of myriad instances all working on and agreeing with the block chain content. However, if they're denied the opportunity to vote (because, ultimately, their ability to vote is in the gift of the data centre housing them and the internet connection it controls), then they no longer count. Instances in another datacentre can vote a different way, changing the "majority view" of the block chain content.

      The danger inherent in nuclear powered data centres for block chain mining instances is that they could make it commercially uneconomic to host miners anywhere else. There's never going to be lots of nuclear powered data centres. Thus, the effective number of mining instances able to vote against a malicious change in the block chain could be severely impacted if one of the data centres goes offline.

      All someone needs to do to take over the block chain is to knock out those few data centres' internet connections for long enough such that their mining instances drop out of contention for voting on the block chain content. When they do come back online, it could be to find that the block chain has been altered to their disadvantage and the rest of the world has moved on.

      Political Analogy

      For an analogy based on the democratic process; nuclear powered data centres for proof of work mining is a bit like putting the majority of voters in one particular district, having a general election, burning the votes cast in that district, and letting the election be decided by the minority of voters in other districts.

  2. trindflo Bronze badge
    Flame

    Not for this!

    I'll buy that nuclear power is a decent alternative given a lot of factors, but for bitcoins?

    I can accept the risks of nuclear (low likelihood of disaster, but a horrendous potential disaster if things do go sideways).

    I have difficulty accepting non-military management of the reactors because I fully expect for-profit businesses to cut corners and make sure the CEO's children are nowhere near ground zero, pushing the risk of disaster higher.

    I can in no way accept the risk of disaster so that grifters can profit from the get-rich-quick ponzi game that bitcoins represent. It is worse than a zero-sum game...it is a negative sum game. The overall value to society is negative.

    Yes, there are places in Africa where bitcoin is a great thing because the banks can't be trusted; there are ways that usage can be maintained without enabling every carnival barker in the world.

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: Not for this!

      I think you're massively overstating the risk. If rubes want to lose their money funding a reactor by-proxy then let them. The experience and economies of scale gained by more SMRs being operated brings the cost down for everyone.

      This is helpful at all levels, from uranium extraction to component manufacture.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Not for this!

      I have difficulty accepting non-military management of the reactors because I fully expect for-profit businesses to cut corners and make sure the CEO's children are nowhere near ground zero, pushing the risk of disaster higher.

      This is one of the regulatory challenges that needs to be overcome before SMRs become practical for commercial use. Like staffing levels needed to operate and secure SMR sites. But most UK reactors aren't managed by the military anway, but by these people-

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Nuclear_Constabulary

      Who are both civil (at least when I've encountered them) and a bit paramilitary. If they would be required to guard SMRs 24x7x365, then that would add to the cost. But they may not be, ie if the sites are secure enough that CNC officers or other armed police can respond to incidents quickly. General operations might be more of a challlenge given the lack of nuclear engineers in the UK currently, but SMRs are designed to fail-safe.. So then it'd be a case of having enough staff who can respond to shutdowns and how long it'd take to get SMR's back in service again.

  3. Howard Sway Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Remember, crypto currency was envisaged as a way of escaping governemnt regulation

    Now it turns out that it's so energy hungry that it requires dedicated nuclear reactors to power it. Which are definitely going to be under very strong government regulation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remember, crypto currency was envisaged as a way of escaping governemnt regulation

      Not expected to be online until 2029: that is plenty of time to campaign for all kinds of personal nukes under the second amendment ("What exactly is the definition of "mass destruction" anyways? This 'un won't even melt more'n half my ranch!"). After that, why power plants is just swords into ploughshares, you can't complain that we are gettin' to peaceful!

  4. AVR

    How long has Bitcoin mining got?

    In another 5 years - or more - the rate at which mining finds new Bitcoins will have tailed off even more. Unless they've got some cunning plan to corner the mining market and so write whatever they like to the blockchain, this plan seems flawed.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: How long has Bitcoin mining got?

      It's a futile activity. When fully mined out (as Bitcoin one day effectively will be), the only reason for anyone to keep validating the block chain is participate in the voting for what the correct version of the block chain is. In effect, it'd be a very expensive way of offering free banking services to those minded to move money outside of government control, for no returned benefit to oneself apart from the dubious pleasure of opening the monthly electricity bill.

      I've yet to hear of a bank that's operated on a charitable basis, never mind one that's also decided to take on the liabilities of a burned out personal nuclear reactor sat in the carpark...

  5. chuckufarley Silver badge

    Just give me a minute while...

    ...I channel my "Inner Clippy"...

    ...

    <<So it looks like you are are trying to save energy to lower your overhead and save money for your business!>>

    <<Have you considered how much electricity is wasted every single minute because of the Fixed Width Format of web pages?>>

    <<Scrolling a page takes time and CPU cycles and if your content viewers have wide screen displays every millimeter of the screen represents a chance to save electricity!>>

    <<All you have to do is use the space they have on their screens and you will save countless CPU cycles and those cycles will add up to carbon based fuels that do not get burned!>>

    <<Converting AC power to DC power and then converting the DC power to radio waves so you can use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse is nowhere near 100% efficient!>>

    <<You may think this is nonsense but if you do the math you will find that you wasting tons of money by browsing web pages that are only served to you in Fixed Width Format.>>

    << Wait, wait, don't click the X! I have lots more help to give just let me...>>

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whose paying for waste disposal?

    The open dirty secret about Nuclear power is Nuclear waste. The US has literally thousands of tonnes of unsafely stored waste and super fund sites.

    The only way Nuclear power makes sense is with government subsidy of radioactive waste management.

    There is no good reason tax payers should be subsidizing this, when solar, wind, geo-thermal, or tidal power does not require this massive subsidy.

    Using anon because I know the rabid pro-nuclear crowd will be coming for me...

    With "bUt moDerN Reactors don't produce waste, like molten Salt"

    And yet none have gone into commercial use.

    1. chuckufarley Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

      The same people that are paying for all nuclear waste: Future Generations. There is nothing secret about this unless you are trying to lie to yourself.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        > The same people that are paying for all nuclear waste: Future Generations.

        Future generations will* also pay for the ruined climate

        * debatably the current ones too looking at this decade's weather

    2. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

      I think you'll find that most of the pro-nuclear crowd here is not particularly rabid, is well aware that waste is a major problem, and would love nothing more than to have all-renewables generation.

      The reason we support nuclear, despite this admittedly big problem, is that we feel that replacing fossil-fuel plants should be our top priority by far right now, and - for a variety of technical, economical and political reasons - renewables can't do that alone, or not quickly enough in the context of IPCC recommendations. As I said several other times, I can't live in a radioactive disaster area, but I also can't live underwater or in a place that gets extreme weather regularly, and while nuclear risk can, in principle at least, be mitigated, there's nothing you can do about carbon.

      The continued existence of coal-fired plants is especially infuriating to nuclear power supporters, because coal-fired plants constantly dump radioactive waste directly into the atmosphere, in quantities that exceed those produced by nuclear plants. And that's on top of the carbon.

      Personally, I've invested as much as I can into renewables, but I live in one of the areas with the worst air quality in Europe, causing an excess mortality of tens of thousands per year. The fact that, despite this, uncontained toxic particulate from fossil plants is nearly unanimously considered an acceptable risk, while waste from nuclear plants is seen as a showstopper of the kind that makes the entire field unworthy of consideration, is difficult to accept for me.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        I think you'll find that most of the pro-nuclear crowd here is not particularly rabid, is well aware that waste is a major problem, and would love nothing more than to have all-renewables generation.

        Not me, mainly because I know 'renewables' simply can't deliver the affordable, reliable energy we need, and nuclear can.

    3. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

      "The open dirty secret about Nuclear power is Nuclear waste. The US has literally thousands of tonnes of unsafely stored waste and super fund sites."

      ~90 thousand tons... which isn't "unsafely stored" it's stored in casks which are sufficiently shielded that radiation measured whilst leaning up against them is lower than the natural background (because half the background radiation is blocked by that same shielding). The amount of waste increases by ~2 thousand tons a year, from ~800TWh of generation.

      That much (the annual production) fly ash is generated by coal power stations generating just 20GWh* of electricity - and I'm completely ignoring any waste that goes up the chimney - and fly ash is well known to be a concentrated source of radioactive material - and since it is completely unshielded it actually releases more radiation than a nuclear plant (MWh for MWh).

      So for 2000 tons of fly ash, which releases more radioactivity to the environment you get 20GWh of electricity.

      For the same amount of waste you get 40,000 times as much energy, and less release of radiation to the environment.

      Of course there is also the minor inconvenience (TM) of climate change to consider.

      *

      2018 figures suggest that in the US:

      1PWh of coal generation

      102 million tons of fly ash

      So that's ~ 51,000 times more fly ash than nuclear waste -> 1PWh/51,000 = 20GWh

    4. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

      I'm part of what your calling the "rabid" pro nuclear crowd.

      More accurately, this is a case of studying the proposed "green" energy generation plans for the future. The stated intention is to deliver enough "green" power for replacing existing fossil fuel generation, and then expanding electrical generation to replace gas heating, gas cooking while simultaneously replacing the internal combustion engine in cars with battery powered electric vehicles. This power requirement is not going to be met with solar panels and wind turbines. Thinking otherwise demonstrates a combination of wishful thinking and wilful ignorance.

      The only logical conclusion for any thinking person looking into it is that nuclear is the only available solution that produces power 24 hours a day 7 days a week that would allow us to decommission fossil fuels while sustaining a modern style of life without doing catastrophic damage to the planet. It's also an option that works now, and just requires a large scale building programme to deliver immediately.

      Nuclear waste is a problem, however it's just not as serious a problem as is made out by people blocking nuclear, and forcing fossil fuel use instead. There have been natural nuclear reactors (such as Oklo) which ran for several hundred thousand years and stored their waste safely for two billion years, so we know that storing waste in the right sort of geological formations is safe over two billion or so years if just tossed in a hole in the ground. (without any sort of safety precautions taken like fusing the waste into glass/ceramic to make any potential for ground water contamination if the store was eroded away by a glacier in a few million years impossible; which is one step of protective measures proposed for the responsible disposal of our waste)

      Secondly, nuclear waste can be split into broadly two categories. The first has a tremendously high radiation output, in which case it shall run down very quickly, and the second form has a low level output which can last a long time. The anti nuclear (and by extension pro fossil fuel) advocates tend to try and gloss over that, along with the fact that the majority of what they describe as low level nuclear "waste" is actually things like desks that have been on a nuclear site which mildly more radioactive than background, but still less than naturally found in much of the country. Treating it as being actually dangerous nuclear waste which has to be accounted for to the Nth degree simply inflates costs and the amount of "nuclear waste" pointlessly to no objective benefit.

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        I agree with you on the issues surrounding nuclear power. At the end of the day it is probably the least damaging of the options we currently have able to provide low-carbon, reliable electricity generation.

        What I have a massive problem with is the mind-boggling waste of resources in things like Bitcoin mining.

        We have to be using every resource we have wisely. Mankind simply cannot continue to consume at the rates we are. Blockchain, bitcoin and everything associated with it is a massive use of resources for minimal gain. It is not just the power but all the compute that goes into supporting it.

        I feel much the same about many online platforms and storage. All these services have made us extremely wasteful. The more that something is free at the point of use the higher the waste.

        Low monthly subscriptions also don't help. £5 here, £7 there,. nobody cares as long as they get there 1000 TV channels or daily dose of cat videos.,

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        The anti nuclear (and by extension pro fossil fuel) advocates tend to try and gloss over that, along with the fact that the majority of what they describe as low level nuclear "waste" is actually things like desks that have been on a nuclear site which mildly more radioactive than background, but still less than naturally found in much of the country.

        A dirty little secret is a lot of the low level nuclear waste is from people pooping into pots marked with radiation warning symbols. An ex had thyroid treatment and was given radioactive iodine. During treatment, she was expected to safely dispose of her radioactive waste. And also not sleep within 2m of someone, but I was prepared to take that risk. So she was a little hotter than normal, and just as energetic. But hospitals produce a lot of low level waste thanks to the wonders of nuclear medicine. Some of which might end up washed up on beaches-

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technetium-99m

        and anti-nuclear nutjobs insist that this must have come from somewhere like Sellafield, and not from people neglecting to use their approved nuclear waste containers. But then this is also one of the problems with the anti-nuclear nutjobs. They don't realise (or care) that nuclear medicine relies on reactors to produce the isotopes used in hospitals for diagnosis or treatment, and alternative methods to produce those are very expensive, inefficient, or usually both. Plus there are all the other isotopes used in industry for safety, inspection and a whole range of useful things.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        "while sustaining a modern style of life"

        You're just going to upset the green hair-shirters with this. You're supposed to be living on a vegan diet of nettle leaves whist wearing clothes knitted from the fibres of the nettle stems.

      4. DJ
        Mushroom

        Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

        Please describe the source and process of the fuel for these reactors, and also include the process for safely disposing of the waste and byproducts - other than office furniture.

        I'm keen to learn more. Really.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Whose paying for waste disposal?

          The original fuel is unenriched uranium, which is enriched to fuel grade and then shoved in a reactor. 96% of the [known] global uranium reserves are found in Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Brazil, Namibia, Uzbekistan, the United States, Niger, and Russia in declining order of [known] deposit sizes. The UK does have Uranium deposits, but they were mostly being used for Uranium glass etc in the 19th century and had largely been mined out by the point that the atom bomb arrived in the 20th century. While there are still deposits then it'd cost something like 5 times to mine it than buying it in from abroad from richer deposits.

          The other source of nuclear fuel is by sawing up nuclear weapons and shoving them in a reactor; which the G7 has been paying Russia to do decades now. (starting with "Megatons to Megawatts" which has let Russia sell off their nukes as fuel cheaply, which has given them an outsized presence in the market for nuclear fuel)

          Originally with the first generation of Magnox nuclear reactors (which we'd built on a large scale) used fuel rods were then reprocessed at the Magnox reprocessing plant, which basically removed everything still useful from the "spent" fuel rods and turned most of the "waste" into either new fuel rods, or nuclear weapons. As a result, we were being shipped fuel rods from as far as Japan to reprocess into useful materials.

          Back in the 1950's obviously they were trying to build up a stockpile of weapons grade material; modern nuclear plants are not designed to produce large quantities of weapons grade material/waste. But we've also decreased the ratio of nuclear generation and increased the ratio of fossil fuels in our power generation mix so we probably don't actually have enough to make reprocessing economically viable now. If we did build enough nuclear plants to matter, then obviously reprocessing becomes more worthwhile again.

          In terms of disposing of the stuff, the simple answer is to point you to the UK government site on the subject:-

          https://ukinventory.nda.gov.uk/about-radioactive-waste/how-do-we-manage-radioactive-waste/

          Simply put, the natural nuclear reaction seen at Oklo has been proved to be safe over 2 billion years if it's just dumped in a hole. We've taken "dump it in a hole" and picked a better type of rock which is completely water impermeable, and then fused the waste into glass or ceramic, and then triple sealed it in metal containers which shouldn't deteriorate with age. When the store is full then it'll be sealed with water impermeable materials to further ensure that the stuff can never conceivably leak, even if the store is eroded away by a glacier in a few million years time and the three layers of metal containers are breached then it'll still be a large inert lump of ceramic, and so still safe.

          The piles of ash from coal plants are more dangerous, because the coal contains uranium etc in small concentrations which doesn't burn and so gets concentrated in the ash which is dumped with literally zero in way of precautions. If your also looking into waste disposal and recycling then have a look at what happens to wind turbine blades, and solar panels. Both are buried at the moment, because it's ~50x cheaper than recycling them and the through life costs don't justify recycling.

          So it's not just nuclear that's got a waste problem. Nuclear does however have the unique position of actually producing the power advertised for sixty or so years, while producing no emissions and a waste problem of vastly smaller scale (a small volume of admittedly highly dangerous waste) than other competitors which produce quite significant waste in production and also in burial at end of life when it can't be recycled.

          If we'd have put the same money into nuclear as wind and solar from 30 years ago then we'd have already decommissioned gas generation by now as being redundant, and gas heating would be in the process of going the same way, which is at present an unachievable pipe dream. Solar and wind are considered to be the "green" options but they really are an abysmal failure on their own terms.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Decommissioning?

    So how long would it take for one of these nuclear DCs to mine its own decommissioning costs in Bitcoin?

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Decommissioning?

      I doubt it's possible. BTC is very volatile, so it could be that at some point they have enough money, but shortly after they don't. They could easily go bust before decommissioning.

      The idea of bankruptcy preventing proper decommissioning is unacceptable, regardless of who builds and/or operates the reactor. IMHO, decommissioning costs ought to be paid up front, before the reactor gets fueled for the first time, into a well-monitored third party that has specifically that job, probably a government agency (possibly the same one that would greenlight the project and that would run inspections anyway). That agency will then deal with decommissioning when the time comes, regardless of whether the original builder is solvent. If the agency runs out of money, it gets a zero-interest loan from public funds; it will repay that loan by raising decommissioning costs for future projects.

      The builder can finance the decommissioning cost advance with a loan. If they can't find a bank willing to finance that loan with a sufficiently low interest rate, then that obviously means they cannot be trusted to run a nuclear reactor.

  8. garwhale Bronze badge

    Proof of work operation are extremely price sensitive, so they go for the cheapest power available, which is not nuclear power. Nuclear power has to include costs for waste storage and clean-up, which is not cheap. If the data centres are actually powered by SMRs, I suspect they will not be doing mining.

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