Supercomputers Are the Missing Link

TerraPower is making great progress on their nuclear reactor design by using supercomputing clusters for computational modeling work. A calculation that takes all day to run on a desktop computer can run in one minute on our cluster.


This past year, the TerraPower team has been heavily involved in engineering work and design with a confidence and speed that would not be possible without the use of a computing cluster. Rigorous modeling techniques present intricate insight into the physics of the online cultivation of fuel, that enables the unique fuel cycle of the Traveling Wave Reactor. Extensive computer simulations and engineering studies produced new evidence that a wave of fission moving slowly through a fuel core could generate a billion watts of electricity continuously for well over 50 to 100 years without enrichment or reprocessing. The hi-fidelity results made possible by advanced computational abilities of modern supercomputer clusters are the driving force behind one of the most active nuclear reactor design teams in the country.

Our cluster contains 1,024 Xeon core processors assembled on 128 blade servers. To break it down, each core is equivalent to the power of a desktop computer. And each of the 128 blades within the cluster has eight cores. So this cluster has over 1000 times the computational ability as a desktop computer.

Installed at the Lab Annex, the cluster features several built-in systems to protect the equipment and keep it running smoothly. Overheating is a major concern to the team because the temperature in the computer room can rise by 40 degrees Fahrenheit per minute without proper cooling. The cluster uses a cutting-edge cooling system. Powerful air conditioners line the servers and blow chilled air to maintain operations. As a precaution, the cluster contains 20-minutes worth of battery back-up power, which is enough to shut the cluster down safely during a power outage. These emergency batteries are the size of a small closet in order to serve the 40 kW of electricity the cluster uses during peak operation and the 25 to 65 kW consumed by the cooling system.

Supercomputing clusters allow rapid and high-confidence studies of new, highly-sustainable nuclear reactors, which will play an important role in our nation’s current and future energy needs.

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  1. Niclas
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Dear IVL,

    Having seen Mr. Gates talk at TED, taking note of this issue. Would it not be possible to create a super computer cloud cluster similar to the one used by SETI@home.

    I can imagine that there are a lot of people out there who would be willing to support the development of nuclear power, and who leave their computers idle during several hours a day (i.g. when sleeping)

    One could further monetise this by selling the computing service to other companies (who pay per ‘information-block-processed’ by the network – similar to clicks of Google Adds I imagine).

    Yours sincerely,

  2. Posted March 10, 2011 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    super super computer!!
    I am trying to look for all possible information on Traveling Wave Reactors to present in a seminar at my college. I feel like inspiring students at university level for research is the key to having a greater number of knowledgeable scientists.

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