The head of site selection for Apple’s data centres denied that a proposed €850 million (£646 million) Apple server farm on the west coast of Ireland is too close to nuclear facilities during an oral hearing last week.
Oscar Gonzalez, who selected data centre sites for Google and Yahoo! before joining Apple in 2013, was questioned by engineer Allan Daly and several others over the data centre’s location.
Apple wants the new Irish data centre to be at least 320km from nuclear facilities, according to a document seen by Business Insider.
In the so-called “witness statement” — where Gonzalez aims to address the extent of the development, the site selection, and the need for the project, before answering questions from a number of concerned parties — data centre opponents questioned Apple on the 320km distance, before highlighting that the data centre site Apple has chosen is in fact less than 320km away from UK nuclear sites.
“Brenda McGuane and Others” suggest that Apple adopted the 320km radius to eliminate more suitable plots of land in other parts of Ireland. They say: “the selection of sites greater than 320km from nuclear facilities is not a criteria adopted by Apple for its data centres in the US. The criteria has not been adopted by other international corporations.”
The fact that the likes of Google and Microsoft have built data centres near Dublin shows that other large tech companies are willing to put their server farms less than 320km away from UK nuclear sites.
Responding to the point, Gonzalez said:
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 US 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.
The document also shows that Julie Bates, whose occupation is not known, contested whether Apple’s proposed site in Derrydonnell forest is in fact 320km from UK nuclear sites.
Gozalez replied: “The Derrydonnell site is approximately 305km from the now-closed Wylfa nuclear facility in Wales and more than 400km from the operating Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.” Interestingly, independent measurements by Business Insider found that the site that Apple has picked is roughly 370km from Sellafield in Cumbria, North West England, and 280km from the now-closed Wylfa Nuclear Power Station, on the island of Anglesey, in North Wales.
In addition to proximity to nuclear facilities, the data centre opponents highlight a range of other issues with Apple’s site selection, including the impact on local populations of bats and badgers, and the fact that, unlike other plots of land across Ireland, the site has not been designated by the Irish government for data centre use.
Apple was not immediately available for comment but it would likely argue that several of the opponents are trying to find any excuse possible to stop it from building the facility.
Engineer Allan Daly, who has been in contact with Business Insider before over the astronomical energy demands of the proposed data centre, contested in the document that none of Apple’s existing data centres meet all of its selection criteria, implying that the company picks and chooses when it meets them. “The distances to nuclear facilities, military installation and fuel distribution centres are arbitrary, and can be increased or decreased,” he wrote.
Gonzalez replied: “As explained, Apple’s business has grown and developed over time and therefore so too have our requirements for site selection. Some US sites 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 used by Apple today to select suitable locations for our data centres. In some cases, it is simply not possible to find a suitable site that meet all the criteria and the company reluctantly accepts the need to compromise.”
Apple’s proposed Irish data centre, one of two data centres Apple wants to build in Europe, would power Apple’s the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri for customers across Europe. Nuclear incidents, while extremely rare, have the potential to wipe out everything within a radius of several hundred kilometres, so you can see why a technology company as big as Apple might not want to put its core infrastructure too close to one.
Business Insider visited the site for the proposed data centre in February and found that the majority of the locals support the development, which could create hundreds of jobs for construction workers.
The oral hearing is taking place because a number of parties appealed Galway County Council’s decision to approve planning permission for the data centre. The appeal was made to independent planning body An Bord Pleanála.
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