WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday it has chosen IBM Corp. to build what it hopes will be world’s fastest supercomputer. The computer will employ technology from the Japanese consumer electronics industry and be used to develop nuclear weapons.
The supercomputer, which has been dubbed the “Roadrunner,” is designed to perform 1 quadrillion calculations per second, or 1 petaflop. It will be installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it will be used to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile through subcritical nuclear tests and others, the department said. In a subcritical test, no nuclear explosion takes place. The most recent subcritical test in the United States was conducted last month.
The supercomputer will incorporate a microprocessor jointly developed with Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp.
The chip, code-named Cell, was unveiled in February. The three firms claim it delivers more than 10 times the performance of comparable chips.
The microprocessor offers high speed and performance, and can produce the high-quality graphic imaging needed to simulate nuclear explosions.
Sony uses the Cell chip in its PlayStation 3 video game console, which launches in November.
“Los Alamos National Laboratory has world-renowned accomplishments in technology and science in support of national security,” Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said in a statement.
“With this procurement, Los Alamos will continue its pioneering role in high-end computing.”
The U.S. Congress has provided $3.5 million in funding in fiscal 2006 for the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration to develop the new supercomputer.
Antinuclear groups as well as the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were hit with American atomic bombs at the end of World War II, have repeatedly urged the U.S. government to halt the subcritical tests, saying they undermine the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons. The U.S. signed the test ban treaty in 1996 but has not ratified it.
On Aug. 30, the department carried out it 23rd subcritical nuclear test since 1997 at an underground test site in Nevada. It was the 10th test since George W. Bush became president.
Many activists and experts argue that the Bush administration is conducting the tests in order to develop a new generation of nuclear arms.
But the U.S. government maintains the subcritical tests do not violate the test ban treaty because they do not involve a nuclear chain reaction, and says they are necessary to ensure the safety of its nuclear stockpile.
It also insists the tests are consistent with the moratorium on nuclear testing that it has maintained since 1992.
In subcritical tests, chemical high explosives are used to create a shock to the plutonium core of a warhead to examine how the element behaves.
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