IBM to Develop Fastest Supercomputer for Nuclear Weapon Research

Computing icon IBM has announced plans to develop a supercomputer with unprecedented processing speeds to support U.S. efforts to study and simulate nuclear explosions, the London Times reported today (see GSN, June 9, 2008).

Dubbed "Sequoia," the system would be able to compute 20,000 trillion calculations per second, also described as 20 petaflops, and would be assembled at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the Times reported. Probably costing more than $100 million, the supercomputer could be delivered in 2011. Sequoia would easily surpass the computing power of what is currently the fastest supercomputer, IBM's "Roadrunner" system, which operates at about 1.1 petaflops at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The goal is to provide U.S. scientists with an ever-better understanding of nuclear weapons to ensure their reliability and safety while the nation observes a moratorium on explosive nuclear testing.

"The problem we have with the nuclear stockpile is similar to one you might have at home with a car you've kept in the garage for 20 to 30 years," said Mark Seager, Livermore assistant department head for advanced technology. "How do you carefully maintain the car as it ages so that when you go to start the car, you can be very confident it will start? That the probability that it won't start is less than 1 in a million? That's a pretty high level of certitude" (Mike Harvey, London Times, Feb.3).

"As weapons age … sometimes problems are found and then the question becomes, ‘Is this a big deal or not?'" Seager added. "The way we answer this question is through simulation and experimental science" (Jon Brodkin, Network World, Feb. 3).

February 3, 2009
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Computing icon IBM has announced plans to develop a supercomputer with unprecedented processing speeds to support U.S. efforts to study and simulate nuclear explosions, the London Times reported today (see GSN, June 9, 2008).