Roadrunner testing U.S. nuclear stockpile

Los Alamos National Laboratory is using the world’s fastest supercomputer, IBM’s “Roadrunner,” to run extremely accurate simulations to verify the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Over the last six months, Roadrunner proved its mettle working on 10 unclassified projects that advanced the state-of-the-art in astrophysics, plasma physics, nanotechnology, magnetic reconnection and materials science.

“We had a few crashes, but that’s what this six-month shakeout period was for,” said a Los Alamos National Lab spokesperson. “After proving it out on a variety of scientific projects, we are now ready to put Roadrunner to work on our classified projects, primarily to assure the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.”

Roadrunner was developed by IBM Corp. in partnership with Los Alamos National Lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration. It’s developers claim Roadrunner is the first computer to exceed petaflop performance at 1.105 petaflops per second (1 petaflop is a quadrillion floating-point operations per second).

Based on the same IBM chip that powers the Sony Playstation 3, the PowerXCell, Roadrunner combines 3,240 computing modules linked by two-tier Infiniband networks. Each Roadrunner module houses two AMD dual-core Opteron processors and four PowerXCells. The system consumes about 4 megawatts of power.

The 10 test projects were selected to flush out any problems in Roadrunner’s architecture. The projects were also chosen since all use the large data sets crunched when simulating nuclear weapon tests, especially aging weapons.

Prior to nuclear test simulations, Roadrunner was used to simulate aspects of the “Big Bang” that formed the universe, fusion reactor design, nanowire properties, plasma physics and materials science.

Engineers at the National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos and the Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories will all have access to Roadrunner during weapon test simulations.


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