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 …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    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?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      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'

    2. andy gibson

      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 :-(

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ATOS

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

    1. monty75

      Re: ATOS

      Shortly before it dies

      1. JimboSmith Silver badge

        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

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          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.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crysis

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

    1. Flakk Silver badge
      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?

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Crysis

      No but it might cause a crisis.

      Mine's the one with the lead lining

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Crysis

      Not it's a Bull.

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

  4. Anonymous Coward
    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?

    1. Jon 37

      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.

      1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Hmm

        @Jon 37

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

      2. Tascam Holiday
        Mushroom

        Re: Hmm

        @Jon37

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

        1. druck Silver badge
          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/

          1. Chris G Silver badge

            Re: Hmm

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

            1. K Silver badge

              Re: Hmm

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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

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

        Bit pointless continuing to test them then isn't it

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          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..

    3. David Shaw

      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?

  5. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Simulated testing

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

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      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

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Simulated testing

        Mutant Duration: 1000 years

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

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Simulated testing

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

          (Ding-a-ding ding ding.)

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Trollface

    a lot of BULL?

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Nope, just a load of Rams in a field

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EU tech

    Happy UK use a European super computer ...

    SAD it's not based on ARM CPU's

    1. Korev Silver badge
      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.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        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.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          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.

          1. tfb Silver badge

            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).

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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.

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: EU tech

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

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Can't we ask....

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can't we ask....

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

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

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

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      It might prefer a nice game of chess.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Or Halma.

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

    2. Vic

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

      Yes. And no.

      Vic.

  10. psychonaut

    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?

    1. Andy 97

      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.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      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.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        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.

        1. Vogon Captain

          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.

          1. Joe User
            Boffin

            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.

            Yes, but there would still be a lot of highly radioactive material scattered about (think "dirty bombs" instead of "big-boom bombs").

            1. Vogon Captain

              Re: do we really need to simulate this?

              Very true, the ironic humour doesn't work in the face of devastating radioactive contamination though.

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      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.

      1. Seajay#

        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.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          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.)

          1. tfb Silver badge

            Re: do we really need to simulate this?

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

            Well, we're obviously in a simulation. Just look at Trump's hair: it's just obviously not rendered properly. And they've attached the hands of a much smaller person to him, and the whole colour balance on his skin is just hopeless. We're not just living in a simulation, we're living in one which is being done on the cheap.

        2. joma0711

          Re: do we really need to simulate this?

          Doesn't Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle have something to (uncertainly) say about that?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: do we really need to simulate this?

            Doesn't Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle have something to (uncertainly) say about that?

            Yes and no

    4. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    5. tfb Silver badge

      Re: do we really need to simulate this?

      We need to know if it will go off.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile in the White Hart

    Let 's see now.. the half-life of Tritium used in boosted weapons is about 12years give or take a month or so. Production in the UK at Chapelcross shut down in 2004 and the Americans only have enough low enriched uranium stockpiled to keep their needs sated another decade. I suppose the bombs will still go bang but they won't be crowd pleaser's, assuming that is they actually detonate.

    Has anybody checked the expiry dates on the PAL's ? (Permissive Action Links), they're Tritium powered.

    1. MT Field

      Re: Meanwhile in the White Hart

      Wherever its used, the tritium is surely replenished at regular intervals. Same as another other perishable fuel or component. These things were not built by idiots.

  12. Gio Ciampa

    As long as the final screen says...

    ..."the only winning move is not to play."

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "..."the only winning move is not to play.""

      It always has been.

  13. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Cool hardware, I hope the code is up to snuff. Many years ago a chap I worked with acquired some hydrodynamic code that had been used to model Polaris missiles moving through seawater. He was doing his PhD in a related field, and found errors in the models used.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An therein lies the problem with models - no-one really knows how accurate they are. A small change here or there and the results are completely different. Are you listening, Climate Change?

      1. tfb Silver badge

        That's why we run lots of different models (and lots of incarnations of a given model with different inputs) and compare their output with each other and with what actually happened (when the models are run in the past), yes. That's the whole fucking point of all this simulation: you don't think we write some golden model, run a copy of it and write a report, right?

      2. nijam

        > Are you listening, Climate Change?

        No, they're not listening. Whatever the truth (or otherwise) of climate change (other than that it's been happening since before humans evolved), climate change models seem remarkably impervious to any alteration in the input parameters.

        One wonders whether they are all just minor variants of "sleep 10000; print $MY_ANSWER"?

        1. tfb Silver badge

          You are either confused or lying: I won't try and second-guess which. Whichever is the case you're so wrong it's not even worth arguing.

  14. sawatts
    Facepalm

    ASOS...

    Oh I was thinking of ASOS. No, ATOS, that makes more sense...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the day they use to have a big server farm of Solaris

    But that was around the turn of the century, when a lot of the power players were running AIX SP2s, a very different architecture.

  16. Nolveys Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Simulation Running Notification

    People will need to know if the machine is running a simulation or not. I'd suggest the following audio cue:

    AHHHHHHHHOOOOOOO!!! AHHHHHHHHOOOOOOO!!! WAAAAAAAAAOHAHHHHHHOOOOOO!!! AHHHHHHHHOOOOOOO!!!

  17. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    WTF?

    What are ATOS contributing?

    I see nothing in the article that says what ATOS are adding (other than a few zeros to the price) that the AWE can't just buy directly from Bull.

    1. Brenda McViking
      Trollface

      Re: What are ATOS contributing?

      Atos? they're there as the government gaurantee that the nuclear weapons are fit to work.

      Even if when you view them with the Mk 1 eyeball they have clearly rusted through, primers are missing, a puddle of red fuming nitric acid has burnt through the floor, the oxidiser tanks are showing 2% of fuel remaining and the bit where the warhead is supposed to be has been hacked off with a crowbar...

      But Atos will simply declare that it is fit to work and that's the nuclear deterrent sorted. move along.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What are ATOS contributing?

      Apart from the fact that Bull are owned by Atos...... how much more contribution do you want?

  18. William Higinbotham

    Joshua: Would you like to play a game?

  19. Jimmy the Tulip

    Do you...

    ...want to play a game?

    1. William Higinbotham

      Re: Do you...

      I stand corrected. Or is it, Shall we play a game? Computer memory is better than mine only if not compromised by some random act.

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