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Russian nuclear scientists caught trying to use a top-secret supercomputer to mine bitcoin

Bitcoin's epic crash has done little to stop crazed investors looking to get in on the action

by Alex Lubben
Feb 9 2018, 8:02pm

Bitcoin's epic crash has done little to stop crazed investors looking to get in on the action. Case in point: Russian nuclear scientists who allegedly risked their careers, and state nuclear secrets, to mine bitcoin with a government supercomputer.

The scientists were arrested by Russian authorities, after allegedly connecting the machine to the internet to use it for “personal purposes,” including cryptocurrency mining, according to Russian news agency Interfax. But the computer isn’t supposed to be connected to the web, according to the BBC, and officials soon noticed something was amiss.

Using a government supercomputer in search of digital currency is definitely extreme, but Bitcoin mining is a heavy duty enterprise. The currency now requires enormous amounts of computing power to run — so much so that a single transaction consumes about as much energy as an average U.S. household does in a week.

Read: Russia is going all in on bitcoin — and everyone's got a theory

The way the cryptocurrency works is that miners, as they’re called, verify transactions by solving super complex math problems, and are rewarded for their work with bitcoins. The supercomputer that the Russians were using to develop nuclear weapons, it turns out, was well-suited for this.

The top-secret Russian research facility at Sarov, where the scientists were busted, is ringed with barbed wire, and was wiped from Soviet maps back in the day, known only by its codename: Arzamas-16. Access to the entire town is restricted. But it’s also home to a 300-year-old Russian Orthodox monastery, dedicated to one Russia’s holiest of men, the mystic Saint Seraphim of Sarov.

Sarov is where Russia built their first nuke in 1949 — back when the USSR was a communist empire and Joseph Stalin was running things. But capitalism’s global now, and these scientists apparently are very here for it.

Cover image: An interior view of Chinese bitcoin mining company Bitmain's mining farm near Keflavik, Iceland, June 4, 2016. Picture taken June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jemima Kelly