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Nuclear concerns hold back Apple data centre plans in Ireland

Tue 31 May 2016

Sellafield nucelar centre

Apple is being questioned over its site selection for a new Irish data centre, with opponents arguing that the proposed €850 million (approx. £648 million) server farm would be located too close to nuclear facilities in Wales and Cumbria.

Oscar Gonzalez, Apple’s head of data centre site selection, came against arguments from a group including engineer Allan Daly at an oral hearing last week. Daly raised the issue that Apple requires that new centres be at least 320km from any nuclear facility in the UK – and was concerned that the proposed Irish site would not meet this specification.

According to Business Insider, it was highlighted at the hearing that “the selection of sites greater than 320km from nuclear facilities is not a criteria adopted by Apple for its data centres in the U.S.,” and that “the criteria has not been adopted by other international corporations.”

Google and Microsoft are among these other large international firms willing to set up their data centres within a 320km radius of UK nuclear sites, with locations just outside of the Irish capital, Dublin.

Business Insider further quotes Gonzalez:

“Apple’s business has grown and developed over time and therefore so too have our requirements for site selection. Furthermore, world events such as the failure of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima in 2011 highlighted the need to consider additional criteria.

Some U.S. sites that were selected prior to the huge growth in demand for Apple’s services would be evaluated from a different perspective today. The site selection criteria we used to select the Derrydonnell site are currently being used by Apple today to select suitable locations for our data centres. We cannot comment on the criteria used by other companies. For Apple’s proposed new data centres, our aim is to minimise the risk to these very important infrastructure elements and highly valuable assets. In some cases, it is simply not possible to find a suitable site at the preferred distance. In such circumstances, if a site meets the other criteria, the company reluctantly accepts the increased risk.”

Opponents at the hearing also spoke of the site’s potential detrimental impact on local populations of bats and badgers, and noted that the location does not lie within an area designated by the Irish government for data centre use.

Further hearings are expected to take place following the appeal of Galway County Council’s decision to approve planning permission for the Apple centre.

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