Clearing the air around nuclear-powered Data Centres.

Is nuclear energy a viable ‘green’ solution for the Data Centre industry?

The current energy mix.

Data Centres consume a lot of energy. In fact, Data Centres consume up to 200TWh of energy per year, which is expected to grow side by side with the continued expansion of the internet. Topped off by advancements in Web 3.0, the metaverse, and blockchain technologies, Data Centres are forecast to demand up to 20% of the world’s energy by 2030 (that’s close to 9,000TWh). (See here, why Data Centres are gaining relevance in the climate change discussion.)

84.5% of global energy comes from burning fossil fuels, namely oil, coal, and gas. A huge portion of CO2e emissions from energy production comes from consuming these fossil fuels, as demonstrated by the figure below. The need for decarbonising the energy we use quickly becomes apparent as we see the huge impact fossil fuels have on the global CO2e emissions. 


With the growing dialogue around Data Centres and their impact on the environment, it may be time to consider our alternative options when it comes to low-carbon energy production and greener PPA’s. Power consumption is responsible for a vast amount of carbon emissions generated by Data Centres, while also contributing to running costs which have an impact on SLA’s and tenancy rates. Here, we consider some of the pros and cons of nuclear energy for Data Centres. 

Clean, cheap, and reliable.

Nuclear energy has been widely recognised as one of the cleanest sources of energy regarding carbon emissions (more on environmental impact below), with an output of 15-50 grams of CO2 per KWh compared to coal’s 1,050 gCO2 / KWh. This means that it is considered virtually carbon free (Google already recognises this).

Further to the huge potential carbon savings, nuclear energy has a considerable cost impact, priced at a Levelized Cost (LCOE) average of $33/MWh, compared to that of coal which comes in at $41/MWh

However, it is important to note that nuclear energy prices vary by region, availability, and economic circumstances; prices can sometimes be as expensive as $146/MWh. With a ceiling that high, it could be more sensible to look into one’s back garden for photovoltaic solar or other forms of renewable energy. 

Unlike other, natural forms of renewable energy (namely hydro, wind and PV solar), nuclear energy can run for years at a time without hindrance or disturbances before needing to be refuelled. France is the leader in this, operating a nearly 40% primary nuclear grid with their plants running at 92% capacity all year round. 


It has been widely agreed that some forms of “clean” energy production are subject to seasonal disturbances as they are reliant on the wind or sun. Solar energy production is much higher in summer than it is in winter, and similar principles apply to hydro and wind power. 

Nuclear energy does not suffer from the same seasonal challenges, making it a more reliable source of energy which doesn’t require multiple complicated PPA’s but can be tapped into through a single agreement, thus proving to be a reliable source of energy. However, advancements in battery technology could pave the way for cross-seasonal stability in the renewable energy sector, balancing the inherent nuclear advantage. See also: Anesco begins optimising 15MW battery assets.

A nuclear Data Centre?

Nuclear energy is, on paper, a desirable source of energy due to is minimal carbon impact, low LCOE, and seasonal stability in comparison to other low-carbon energy sources, meaning it is a win-win-win on all fronts of lowered OpEx, drastically improved sustainability, as well as year-round availability. It is also true that some data centres already tap into nuclear energy, some even reported to be running on 100% nuclear sources. So, why don’t all operators make the switch? Public perception remains a huge issue. 

Owing to historical disasters, such as the Fukushima, Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island disasters, the public acceptance of local nuclear reactors remains challenging to receive over concerns around safety. Although it has been proven that nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of energy production, on par with PV solar as seen in the figure above. Naturally, putting the words ‘nuclear’ and ‘disaster’ together in one sentence doesn’t often sit well with public, neither does ‘nuclear’ and ‘waste’ (nuclear waste is a growing concern among the public, although it has been repeatedly proven that the environmental impact is not nearly as severe as it is perceived. See here). However, with advancements in uranium enrichment and the emergence of low enriched uranium (LEU) plants, public concerns around safety could be quashed as these plants are significantly safer – while also operating at a lower cost.

Nuclear energy is either too expensive or outright unavailable in some regions, which creates the need for small modular reactors (SMR) and microreactors, some of which can produce energy at capacities nearing 10MW and can be placed on-site. 

However, this may currently seem unfeasible for some players, with the capital requirements being astronomically high for new nuclear projects, costing as much as USD $9,000 per KWh to build, compared to other renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind farms which max out at $5,000 per KWh to build. It may still take another 30 – 50 years for new hyper-efficient nuclear fusion plants to become commercially viable, which means the current options remain somewhat limited.

Does the hugely lowered cost of electricity and the virtual dissolution of energy-related CO2e emissions prove to weigh more than the challenges that nuclear energy poses?

Nevertheless, well known industry peers seem optimistic about a long-term future for implementing nuclear energy into the daily energy mix of a Data Centre, and while there are seemingly a never ending list of pros and cons to consider, whether we can fully replace fossil fuels with nuclear energy could always remain a political, not technical, point of debate, especially in the Data Centre industry.  

Despite all positive factors, communities still don’t want to have a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood, and the regulatory environment surrounding nuclear energy is an increasingly complex space which is tough to navigate while most politicians tend to be risk-averse in a bid to protect their status.

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