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New computers may eliminate need for nuclear tests

National Nuclear Security Administration will spend $26 million to save money and standardize computer systems at U.S. labs.

The government will spend $26 million on high-end computers to cut costs and standardize systems among the three U.S. labs charged with ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation's aging nuclear stockpile.

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) awarded the multimillion-dollar contract to Milpitas, Calif.-based Appro to supply Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories with 438 teraflop high-performance computing clusters based on the Quad-Core AMD Opteron processor. To date, each of these labs had used its own combination of computer systems, which were not always compatible with the others.


"This is the first time NNSA has awarded a single contract for all three laboratories," agency official Martin Schoenbauer in a press release. "Combining the contract for each of the three laboratories not only saves money, but continues to move NNSA towards a smaller more efficient nuclear weapons complex."

The new equipment will provide crunch power to NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship program, under which the labs perform advanced nuclear weapons simulations meant to replace underground testing and extend the life of existing weapons. The computers are expected to be deployed in eight Linux clusters across the "tri-Lab" sites starting later this year.

The Appro systems are composed of modular, scalable units that can be rapidly configured "Lego-style" into clusters of varying sizes and computing power, according to NNSA. Each unit represents about 20 trillion floating-point operations per second (teraflops) of computing power and feature the latest Mellanox Technologies ConnectX IB 20 GB/s dual-port InfiniBand adapters and ConnectX EN dual port 10 Gigabit Ethernet NICs for storage connectivity.

The government relies increasingly on science and technology to extend the life of existing warheads, given the untenability of continuing the Cold War practice of replacing weapons every 15 to 20 years, NNSA's Thomas P. D'Agostino told the House Armed Services Committee (PDF). This was the genesis of the science-based Stockpile Stewardship program whose major focus is predicting the effect of changes in an aging stockpile, he said.

There has been no mention of hooking up the other sites that constitute the nation's nuclear weapons research and production base, namely the Nevada Test Site, Savannah River Site, Pantex Plant and Kansas City Plant. The video below shows what an underground test looks like.