back to article Britain's warhead-watcher to simulate Trident nukes with Atos supercomputer

The Atomic Weapons Establishment, which provides warheads for the UK's nuclear weapons, is to use a Bull supercomputer to simulate Trident nuclear warhead explosions. Warhead components change over time through ageing, obsolescence and redesign, which affects their operational efficiency. The AWE can't run test explosions any …

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Coat

As long as the managment processor isn't open to the net of course.

Wouldn't want anyone with a blank password getting free reign, would we?

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Re: As long as the managment processor isn't open to the net of course.

Since the primary purpose is deterrence, don't shut it away completely from the internet.

Leave a few honeypot accounts open with documents that say 'these bombs all work extremely well and will make a very Big Bang'

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Re: As long as the managment processor isn't open to the net of course.

"Wouldn't want anyone with a blank password getting free reign, would we?"

I tried "Joshua", that didn't work either :-(

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Anonymous Coward

ATOS

Will ATOS be certifying the system as able to work, when in fact it can't?

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Re: ATOS

Shortly before it dies

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Re: ATOS

Will they be installing this at the Corsham Computer Centre? That's where allegedly we do such testing, in a large hole in the ground out West of things designed to make a large hole in the East.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corsham_Computer_Centre

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Re: ATOS

out West

Corsham? Out West? Yer 'avin a larf mate.

According to my Senior Controller (she was born in Plymouth), the only stuff Out West is her ancestors in Kernow.

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Anonymous Coward

Crysis

But can it run Crysis, at 30fps in 4K?

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Joke

Re: Crysis

Warhead modeling is a reasonable expectation for a supercomputer, but running Crysis at 4K/30? Why do people always ask the impossible?

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Coat

Re: Crysis

No but it might cause a crisis.

Mine's the one with the lead lining

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Re: Crysis

Not it's a Bull.

You will have to pay extra for it to run anything.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm

I use an old saucepan for testing fireworks.

Would it not save taxpayers money if we just built a big saucepan.

Also will this super computer run Crysis?

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Re: Hmm

They're not allowed to test their nuclear fireworks, saucepan or not.

The byproducts of a nuke explosion are a bit worse than the byproducts of your firework going off. So many countries, including the UK, agreed to stop setting off nukes for testing purposes.

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Facepalm

Re: Hmm

@Jon 37

I see the sense of humour bypass is working well though...

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Mushroom

Re: Hmm

@Jon37

Yeahbut we'd keep the lid on the saucepan to be really safe.

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Re: Hmm

"...the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (to which the UK is signed up), which bans emission of nuclear yield (radioactive debris)..."

Umm... the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosions, for all purposes, in all environments (the 'comprehensive' bit).

If the treaty was just about the release of emissions then we'd still be seeing underground testing.

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Mushroom

Re: Hmm

@Tascam Holiday: "Yeah but we'd keep the lid on the saucepan to be really safe."

Although it could end up as the second saucepan lid in space:-

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/07/16/america_soviets_space_race/

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Re: Hmm

So you aren't even allowed to use them for real?

Bit pointless continuing to test them then isn't it

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Re: Hmm

How about a REALLY big pressure cooker? Then the lid might stay on.

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K
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Re: Hmm

Was thinking that one myself.. even more so when he said about keeping the lid on!

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Re: Hmm

We also use a lot of (sadly, sharkless - more octopus-like) lasers for testing the nuclear materiel.

I think it wouldn't fit in an old saucepan, perhaps a large Le Creuset?

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Re: Hmm

So you aren't even allowed to use them for real?

Well - yes. But, if you ensure that the first one makes sure to target the organisation what enforces the ban, it wouldn't really matter.

Even lawyers might have problems taking you to court once they are radioactive particles drifting in the wind..

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Simulated testing

I hope they still have a melodramatic countdown, put on dark glasses and turn away from the screen before pressing the button.

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Re: Simulated testing

Makes you wonder what the output is like. Is it teraflops of pretty fiery explosion gfx? or a little ticker tape pops out of the thing saying:

Results for 50kt test 2:

Blast Raduis: 2 miles

EMP: 3000 kg m^2 / A s^3

Suntan factor 50: 20 miles

Commie scaring factor: 6/10

Mutant Duration: 1000 years

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Re: Simulated testing

Mutant Duration: 1000 years

So we could use it in Norfolk without worrying in the increase in mutations?

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Re: Simulated testing

Sorry mate, all mutated out. No chance of a genetic change.

(Ding-a-ding ding ding.)

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Trollface

a lot of BULL?

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Coat

Nope, just a load of Rams in a field

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Anonymous Coward

EU tech

Happy UK use a European super computer ...

SAD it's not based on ARM CPU's

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Boffin

Re: EU tech

There are a few ARM supercomputers, but they're currently a bit small. IIRC the one in Barcelona is 0.5PF which is under 1/8 of the Bull system. Give it time and I'm sure there will be some advanced boffinery on ARM.

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Unhappy

"Give it time and I'm sure there will be some advanced boffinery on ARM."

Given that bomb codes tend to coded in FORTRAN I'd guess in principle porting them to ARM would not be impossible. IIRC those codes have been under continual development (and re-hosting) for decades.

Getting them to realize the theoretical speed of the processors is a whole different story.

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Facepalm

Re: "Give it time and I'm sure there will be some advanced boffinery on ARM."

FORTRAN?

Yeah, T'was nice to code linear algebra operations on single-CPU vector machines, like, you know Cray Y-MP and that stuff.

I STRONGLY doubt FORTRAN is still a good fit for today's massively parallel systems.

If they are still using FORTRAN, it's just another case of "we have always done it this way around here", followed immediately by a horse terminal removal wagon.

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tfb
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Re: "Give it time and I'm sure there will be some advanced boffinery on ARM."

Fortran is a very good fit for big supers. The language has semantics very well designed for good float performance & has evolved to be a lot less horrible than it was, there are extremely good compilers (Intel's is very good, and vendors usually provide their own which may be better), and MPI / OpenMP support is very good indeed (again: vendor libraries help here). And there are really substantial libraries of course.

Source: my day job involves running big numerical simulations, written in Fortran, on large HPC systems (not atomic weapon simulations).

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Re: "Give it time and I'm sure there will be some advanced boffinery on ARM."

"Given that bomb codes tend to coded in FORTRAN I'd guess in principle porting them to ARM would not be impossible."

Far from it; the gcc suite is available on ARM. I think porting between different versions/standards of FORTRAN would be a bigger issue.

In any case, you wouldn't be running the heavy lifting on ARM; all the heavy stuff would be run on the arrays of GPU-type accelerators that the ARMs manage.

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Re: EU tech

Me and my mates have 10 or so Rapsberry Pis between us. Ebdon, where's the download for RaspNucSim v1.0?

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Joke

Can't we ask....

...that bloke in North Korea. He doesn't seem to have an issue testing them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can't we ask....

You need to get in touch with their outsourcing agency. They surely can arrange something.

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But can it beat itself in a game of tic-tac-toe?

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It might prefer a nice game of chess.

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Or Halma.

If it does, we might call it Eddie (assuming it has the GPP feature)

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Vic
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But can it beat itself in a game of tic-tac-toe?

Yes. And no.

Vic.

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do we really need to simulate this?

if it goes off, then it will be bad. why do we really need to know how bad? their answer is just going to be somewhere between "really bad for humans and unbelievably bad for humans " somewhere near the explosion.

if one of those things goes off, there are going to be a lot more of them flying around shortly after. is it going to model that as well?

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/plutonium.html

I'm not a nuclear physicist and don't know which type of plutonium they pulled out of Windscale back in the 1950's, but it's certainly one or the other.

As nobody set off any old nukes, the AWE need to understand if they will still reach the critical mass to cause a chain reaction... or if they'll open a vortex into another dimension where beasties and people much scarier than the fat Nork bloke (with the bad hair) live.

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

I suppose one of the applications will be to simulate how warheads degraded through ageing will perform. The deployment scenarios - and I do hope they are filed in binders like General Turgidson's "World Targets in Megadeaths" - are bound to be based on a more or less reliable yield per warhead. At one point you'll have to update either the warhead or the contingency plan.

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

It's all about warhead reliability with degraded cores. As the cores age the amount of decay products inside rise, some of them potential fission poisons. It's the reason the US is so heavily investing in things like the Z-machine and NIF. It's not about fussion power generation per sé. It's about a very specific kind of very short lived high energy fussion process.

Because no-one of he western powers has set one off (so to speak) in the last 3 decades or so there is serious doubt if any of them will even work. Thus all the testing. Not just for reliability when it comes down to it but also upgraded maintenance procedures to keep them in a safe condition.

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

"if it goes off, then it will be bad. why do we really need to know how bad?"

That "if" being exactly why it needs simulating - nuclear weapons are fairly complicated things, and as the article notes there have been plenty of changes made over the years, as well as other factors like deterioration of components. You can argue all you like about whether we should have nukes, but given that we do have them it's probably a good idea to check that they will actually work as expected and won't, for example, explode on the launchpad or leak radioactive material everywhere while in storage.

"if one of those things goes off, there are going to be a lot more of them flying around shortly after. is it going to model that as well?"

No. Nuclear physics simulations are surprisingly unhelpful at things like socio-economic analysis and strategic planning.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: do we really need to simulate this?

Many nukes have a selectable yield. As they age the yield changes. Simulation enables you to predict the size of bang you are going to get and dial it up or down to match the job at hand.

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

Nuclear physics simulations are surprisingly unhelpful at things like socio-economic analysis and strategic planning.

Well everything is ultimately physics. If we had a really big computer and knowledge of the current state of the world we could simulate all the sociology and economics you could possibly want.

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

"If we had a really big computer and knowledge of the current state of the world we could simulate all the sociology and economics you could possibly want."

Well, for all we know, somebody might be doing just that right now, and we're part of that simulation.

(You know, I could probably even live with that it it was true; as long as I can file bug reports.)

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Re: do we really need to simulate this?

It would be somewhat amusing if nuclear war broke out and all the worlds weapons failed to go off through lack of use.

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