Japan is commissioning the world’s most powerful nuclear fusion research supercomputer

The Verge By Shannon Liao Mar 19, 2018

“Trinity,” the Cray supercomputer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program. Credit: Cray

Japan is launching a Cray XC50 supercomputer for advanced nuclear fusion research, which will begin production this year. While the Cray XC50 supercomputer is far from the most powerful on the planet, it will be the world’s most powerful within the field of nuclear fusion research.

The National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology picked out the computer for its research, and the computer will be installed at the Rokkasho Fusion Institute, one of the institutes’ centers for nuclear research. It will be used for local nuclear fusion science experiments, and it’ll also play a role in supporting ITER, a massive multinational fusion project headed by the EU that’s halfway to completion. Over a thousand researchers from Japan and other countries will be able to use the system, mainly for plasma physics and fusion energy calculations.

In anticipation of the new supercomputer, Japan has decommissioned its previous, older system, called Helios, that had been ranked 15th most powerful supercomputer in 2012.

Japan’s latest supercomputer system hasn’t been named yet, and it’s not even the best Cray XC50 system out there. Switzerland has the world’s third most powerful supercomputer, according to November rankings, which runs on the Cray XC50 system.

Fusion energy is still a while away, as ITER’s first plasma reactor is slated to become operational in 2035 and will cost billions of dollars in investment. Still, advocates say that once it’s here, nuclear fusion could cover the world’s need for energy for over a thousand years at least and not bear the same climate change side effects as using fossil fuels or radioactive threat from nuclear fission.

The US has also invested plenty in the supercomputers arms race, pouring a total of $258 million last year alone in funding companies including Cray, AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and others to build exascale computers that can perform a billion billion calculations per second.