I just read this article about small nuclear reactors on DailyTech:

The Hyperion Hydride Reactor is not much larger than a hot tub, is totally sealed and self-operating, has no moving parts and, beyond refueling, requires no maintenance of any sort. The reactor will output 27MW, enough to power a community of 20,000 homes, says Hyperion Energy, makers of the new reactor. The first models will roll off the assembly line in five years.

The reactor itself is a very simple design that is supposedly fail-safe; you bury it near your site, and the only maintenance needed is digging it up every 7 to 10 years for refueling. This got me thinking: wouldn’t this be a great power source for larger data centers? The Hyperion design is supposed to run at about $0.10 per kWh, which is a bit high, but Toshiba is rumored to be working on a smaller unit that should get to about $0.05 per kWh.

The power wouldn’t be much cheaper, but since it’s generated on-site or at least near your site, you might be able get by without a backup generator. Instead, you’d just need a UPS that would last long enough to switch to grid power. Under normal conditions you might even sell any excess power back to the local utility. Doing away with the generators might save space and remove the need for storing large quantities of diesel fuel.

There are just two downsides:

  1. Even though Hyperion claims the technology is completely fail-safe, there might be some objections to burying nuclear reactors close to a city
  2. The Hyperion site has no details about how the electricity is actually generated; the reactor itself is so small that I doubt there is space for a turbine, so I guess you’d need to run steam pipes down to the reactor and place a generator at ground level. Running a 25 MW generator is no small task…

Still, it might be interesting to see someone actually try these. Hyperion claims to have about 100 order so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either Google or Yahoo are amongst their first customers.

In other news, 1&1 Internet is doing exactly the opposite; they are building a data center in a decommissioned nuclear facility in Germany:

The Siemens AG facility, which didn’t include a nuclear reactor but handled spent nuclear fuel, became the focus of protests and was closed in 1995. Two years ago, the premises were released from nuclear control legislation, clearing the way for commercial use.