The installation of the new Titan supercomputer at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) marks the start of a new era of scientific supercomputing, including in nuclear energy research.

Titan employs a family of processors called graphic processing units (GPUs) — first created for computer gaming — which enables it to perform more than 20,000 trillion calculations per second (20 petaflops). When fully operational, it will be ten times more powerful than ORNL’s last world-leading system, Jaguar.

ORNL noted that Titan will provide “unprecedented computing power for research in energy, climate change, efficient engines, materials and other disciplines and pave the way for a wide range of achievements in science and technology”.

James Hack, director of ORNL’s National Center for Computational Sciences, commented: “Titan will allow scientists to simulate physical systems more realistically and in far greater detail. The improvements in simulation fidelity will accelerate progress in a wide range of research areas such as alternative energy and energy efficiency, the identification and development of novel materials and the opportunity for more advanced climate projections”.

With regards to nuclear energy, researchers will be able to use the Denovo application to, among other things, model the behaviour of neutrons in a nuclear power reactor. Titan will allow Denovo to simulate a fuel rod through one cycle of use in a reactor core in 13 hours — a job that took Jaguar 60 hours to perform. This could help extend the operating lives of the USA’s nuclear power plants. The DoE is currently looking into the possibility of extending reactor lives from 60 years to 80 years.

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