Atom-splitting number-crunchers

16 July 2009

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) has ordered a new supercomputer which will be the most powerful in the country in March 2010. However, the new system will still have less than one-fifth of the computing power of the world's fastest existing supercomputer, also owned by nuclear researchers.


The Linux cluster JAEA has ordered from Fujitsu will comprise some 2157 nodes and boast a theoretical peak performance of 200 teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second), making it the fastest supercomputer system in Japan and far faster than JAEA's current computers: a shared system (theoretical peak performance of 13 teraflops) and a system for use in its fast reactor project (2.4 teraflops).


The new system - which will combine the functions of the two existing systems - will be used for a variety of simulations involved in nuclear plant development, including studies on fusion

 "Supercomputers are 
  indispensible for the
  kind of scientific
  computations required
  in nuclear energy
  research and

   Toshio Hirayama 
   Japan Atomic Energy Agency
and FBRs, as well as assessing the earthquake resistance of nuclear facilities. Built around a large-scale parallel computation cluster, the new system will be a hybrid consisting of three computational server subsystems, each intended for different purposes.


Super dupercomputers


According to the Top500 list of supercomputing sites published in June, Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL's) IBM Roadrunner is the world's fastest, closely followed by the Cray XT5 Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The Roadrunner system runs at 1.105 petaflops per second (quadrillion floating-point operations per second), while the Jaguar runs at 1.059.


The US Department of Energy's (DoE's) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which operates the Roadrunner at LANL, has seven of its supercomputers in the Top500 list, including three in the top ten. The NNSA's BlueGene system at the Lawrence Livermore National laboratory (LLNL) is in fifth place (at 478 teraflops), whilst its Dawn system, also at LLNL, is the ninth fastest (at 415 teraflops).
However, while JAEA use their computing power for civil nuclear energy and research the NNSA said it uses its capabilities to ensure the USA's nuclear weapons are safe, secure and reliable without actual testing. Its supercomputers are also used for a number of diverse scientific initiatives.


In addition to ORNL's Cray XT5 Jaguar, four other supercomputers at the laboratory also made it into the Top500 list helping the USA to take eight of the top ten positions. The other two places were taken by Germany: the Jugene (825 teraflops) and the Juropa (274 teraflops) supercomputers were in third and tenth position, respectively. Both are at the Jülich Research Centre (FZJ) in Germany where atomic research is carried out.


Electricité de France has the 36th fastest computer in the world, performing at 252 teraflops. 

The top 100 supercomputers also includes three machines belonging to France's CEA - which like NNSA uses supercomputers instead of nuclear weapons testing - as well as fusion research supercomputers at Germany's Max-Planck Institute and Japan's National Institute for Fusion Science.


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