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Can nuclear energy bitcoin mining be a sustainable path?
Author: Carol (Twitter: @CC99Carol)
Editor: Wu Blockchain
Recently, the first nuclear-powered data center to host bitcoin mining services in the United States was announced as officially completed. This event has brought nuclear mining back into the limelight. In fact, for a long time, nuclear energy mining has been used by some Eastern European countries due to its efficient and clean nature combined with the ease of meeting the high energy demand for mining. For some countries with a relative surplus of energy, nuclear energy can be converted into economic value, which is undoubtedly quite cost-effective. However, the feasibility of nuclear energy mining has been the focus of debate among experts in various countries due to the uncontrollable nature of nuclear energy itself. Whether it can bear the burden of a sustainable development path requires more practical results to support it.
It has always been clear that mining bitcoin requires a lot of electricity, and with the growing awareness of environmental protection, the feasibility of nuclear mining as a clean energy source has become a hot topic. In this regard, some countries have actually put it into use, some are still hesitant to wait and see, and the discussion of feasible or non-feasible has become a topic of discussion among experts.
Nuclear Energy Mining Practice
Cumulus Data, a zero-carbon data center manufacturer, recently announced the completion of a data center connected to the Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, the Cumulus Susquehanna data center campus, which is the first U.S. nuclear-powered data center to host bitcoin mining services and it plans to begin serving bitcoin mining company TeraWulf this year. Here’s a brief background on the companies.
I. Cumulus Data
Cumulus Data is a subsidiary of Talen Energy, an independent power producer. Talen’s primary focus is on a long-term ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) strategy centered on decarbonization, renewable energy, battery storage and digital infrastructure, allowing Talen to grow its business while reducing negative environmental and social impacts. Therefore, advancing clean energy infrastructure and connecting directly to low cost, carbon-free power for hyperscale data centers is the inevitable direction for Talen’s development, and what Cumulus Data is trying to do is to follow this direction by merging digital infrastructure and clean energy to allow hyperscale data centers to connect directly to zero carbon, low cost, and reliable power sources.
II.Susquehanna and Cumulus Susquehanna data center campus
The Susquehanna nuclear power plant is also part of Talen Energy, Inc. and Talen is building a hyperscale data center campus, Cumulus Susquehanna data center campus, in its vicinity that will provide low-cost, reliable, low-carbon electric energy to data center customers on the campus, allowing them to directly benefit from The campus will be powered by over 1 GW of ultra-reliable, zero-carbon, 24x7 (24/7) nuclear power with industry-leading TCO and one of the lowest total cost of electricity in the United States.
TeraWulf said that as the world’s first ESG-focused cryptocurrency mining company, TeraWulf’s goal is to perfect the use of green energy for bitcoin mining. And with sustainability in mind, TeraWulf uses over 91% zero-carbon energy to produce bitcoin at its mining facilities across the United States.
As you can see above, as the first data center for bitcoin mining, it carries the energy considerations for nuclear energy itself, and so far, its practical ideas and company capabilities seem to be quite impressive, and the overall development results will have to wait for the subsequent development status.
Early Nuclear Mining
For the use of nuclear energy mining, in fact, some Eastern European countries began to put into use a long time ago, because there are a large number of Soviet-era nuclear power plants in Eastern Europe, coupled with the lack of domestic industrial economic development, a serious surplus of electricity, state-run nuclear power plants, serious losses, the only way to develop bitcoin mining. Only by developing Bitcoin mining can they use waste electricity and bring income growth to the local area and it is also something they would be happy to see that excess energy can shine in other areas.
In September 2017, the governor of Russia’s Leningrad region invited cryptocurrency miners to Sosnobeb near St. Petersburg to build an industrial-scale mine at the old Leningrad nuclear power plant. Subsequently, the Russian Ministry of Finance drafted laws to legalize cryptocurrencies. In December of the same year, the President of Belarus stated that his government would protect and promote the development of the country’s cryptocurrency industry and would use the country’s excess nuclear energy to power new mines. In 2019, the President of Belarus again stated at a meeting with IT industry representatives that he would develop digital currency mining as a national effort, allow mining industries to set up factories in the country, and use excess nuclear energy to power mines.
Moreover, in a statement released on May 6, 2020, the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine noted that bitcoin and digital currency mining is a modern and efficient way of using excess energy. Due to the blockade of New Crown Pneumonia, the local nuclear power plant generated a large surplus of electricity resources. The Ukrainian Ministry of Energy then asked the state-owned Energoatom to study potential ways to use nuclear power generation facilities for bitcoin mining. Eneroatom then announced plans in 2021 to build a number of giant data centers near the country’s nuclear power plants for bitcoin mining as well as storing sensitive state information.
Is nuclear energy mining feasible
I. Feasible reasons
1. Nuclear energy is a highly efficient and clean energy source with low environmental impact and minimal carbon emissions, suitable for mining.
2. The greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear power are only one percent of those of coal power of the same scale, and the emissions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot are also very small.
3. Nuclear power is more expensive, but the operating costs are very low, for the United States, France and other large nuclear power countries, nuclear power costs have been lower than thermal power.
4. Once nuclear power is put into use, it only needs to be checked once in a few years, and most of the time it can provide a large amount of stable power output, which is conducive to the smooth operation of the miners.
5. The high energy demand of cryptocurrency mining can be easily met by the high-density nature of nuclear energy, with one fusion/fission reaction producing far more energy than the sum of millions of combustion reactions.
6. Low correlation with external environment, nuclear power generation is not affected by season or geographical location, and power can be supplied in remote areas without affecting the electricity consumption in industrial areas.
7. Miners and nuclear power plants can benefit in both directions. Nuclear energy can bring long-term viability, and the steady decline in the price of nuclear energy that accompanies it means that miners can save additional money. At the same time, the flexibility and control of mining efforts and the excess power capacity used for mining can also bring considerable additional benefits to nuclear power plants.
II. Non-viable reasons
1. As a national weapon, nuclear power plants have great safety requirements. The use of nuclear energy for large-scale mining is likely to trigger a public backlash.
2. Compared with thermal power plants, it is more difficult to adjust the power of nuclear power plants. After reaching full power, nuclear power plants require frequent adjustment of the control rods to adjust power, which not only affects the service life of the unit, but also poses many safety hazards.
3. Uranium 235 burned in nuclear power plants is scarce and nuclear waste is not easy to handle.
4. Once an accident occurs, it will cause great safety hazards.
Overall, nuclear energy has many advantages if used for crypto mining, especially for cryptocurrencies that require a lot of power like Bitcoin. While there are some potential risks associated with nuclear energy, they may take a backseat to the capabilities of nuclear energy. Now that the bitcoin mining industry has grown into a global industry, the use of excess energy to create greater benefits for the country may also become a future trend. As for whether mining with nuclear energy can be a sustainable path, more practical results are needed to prove as mining with nuclear energy has not yet been put into use on a large scale.