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Scientists use world's fastest supercomputer to model, simulate nuclear reactors

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Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using the world's fastest supercomputer to model and simulate next-generation nuclear power plants.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are using the world's fastest supercomputer to model and simulate next-generation nuclear power plants.

The premise of the project is to combine existing nuclear energy and nuclear national security modeling and simulation tech with high-performance computing.

The lab's Nuclear Modeling staff are known for developing and applying computational methods and software for simulating radiation to improve the design and safety of nuclear facilities, reactor core designs and nuclear fuel performance.

The team seeks supercomputing as a way to bolster the impact of its nuclear analysis software package, called SCALE.

John Wagner, technical integration manager for nuclear modeling in ORNL's Nuclear Science and Technology division, explains the value:

Traditionally, reactor models for radiation dose assessments have considered just the reactor core, or a small part of the core. However, we're now simulating entire nuclear facilities, such as a nuclear power reactor facility with its auxiliary buildings and the ITER fusion reactor, with much greater accuracy than any other organization that we're aware of.

The supercomputer in question? ORNL's Jaguar, the world's fastest supercomputer, running on a next-generation software package called Denovo, created by NSTD scientist Tom Evans.

Denovo was awarded 8 million processor hours on Jaguar by the DOE Office of Science's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment program to develop "a uniquely detailed simulation of the power distribution inside a nuclear reactor core."

The added computing power will help researchers design more accurate models with better shielding, improving safety and reducing costs.

"Software for modeling radiation transport has been around for a long time, but it hadn't been adapted to build on developments that have revolutionized computational science," Evans said in a statement. "There's no special transformational technology in this software; but it's designed specifically to take advantage of the massive computational and memory capabilities of the world's fastest computers."

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure