• Kyodo


Japan’s supercomputer K will retire in August to give way to a cutting-edge successor, government-backed research institute Riken said Wednesday.

The first supercomputer in the world to achieve a computing speed of over 10 quadrillion computations per second is set to end operations after nearly seven years and will be replaced by the successor, which is still under development, in around 2021 or 2022 at the same research center in Kobe.

The K went into full-scale operation in September 2012 after about six years of joint development by Riken and computer maker Fujitsu Ltd., at a cost of some ¥111 billion ($1 billion).

Fujitsu is also involved in the development of the next-generation replacement supercomputer, which will have a computing capacity 100 times that of its predecessor. The new computer is expected to contribute to a variety of projects including earthquake and tsunami damage projections and analysis of big data.

The K has been used for data calculations in various fields, such as weather forecasting, semiconductor development and medical research. But from Aug. 16, outside researchers and private businesses will be unable to use it, with the entire system shutting down by the end of the same month, according to Riken. Much of the old supercomputer will be scrapped, the costs of which is expected to reach a few hundred million yen.

In June 2011, the K (or kei, which means 10 quadrillion in Japanese) ranked first in the world in computing speed. It then did so again in November that year even before the start of its operations at Riken.

According to the Top 500 list of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, compiled biannually by researchers, the United States ranked top with its supercomputer Summit in November 2018. China had held first place from 2013 until June 2018, when the United States regained the top spot.

The K supercomputer became the subject of controversy in 2009 as then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Renho, who was at the time a member of a government panel seeking to cut spending for less urgent items in the national budget, questioned whether Japan needed to pursue the No. 1 position amid an economic crisis.

Her remark led to a panel decision that the project should be frozen, but the move triggered a storm of criticism from domestic scientists including Nobel laureate in chemistry Ryoji Noyori, a former president of Riken. The government rescinded the panel’s decision in its budget for fiscal 2010, allowing the project to continue.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.