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New computer will help keep nuclear arsenal safe



Published: Sat, August 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A terabyte is not the result of a prehistoric pterodactyl attack, but rather a measure of computer memory so colossal that it defies the comprehension of most everyday high-tech users.

But the new Accelerated Strategic Computer unveiled last week by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the fastest computer in the world, has a total memory of 4 terabytes with the capability of performing more operations per second than if every man, woman, and child on earth were able to add 2,000 numbers per second non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What they used: Obviously, that's not the kind of speed needed by the typical desktop computer. However, the Lawrence Livermore scientists have wired together a total of 8,192 IBM RS/6000 processors--commercial, off-the-shelf technology--to solve problems that would have taken tens-of-thousands of years to complete on computers produced just a few years ago.

A lot has changed in the computer industry. Lawrence Livermore's original computer fit in a small room had a memory equivalent of only about 1,000 words, or about four pages. The new computer room is longer than two NBA basketball courts and the computer's memory can accommodate the equivalent of 300 million books.

However, creating the library of the universe is not the purpose of the new supercomputer.

Important uses: Rather, with that kind of speed, American scientists will be able to maintain the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Regardless of new weapons systems or new -- and old -- nuclear treaties, America's nuclear warheads need to be protected. And the concern isn't that some terrorist group might steal the weapons. Nuclear material is inherently unstable and can't be kept indefinitely.

The Defense Department wants to ensure that the new generation of scientists and engineers that has neither designed nor tested a nuclear weapon will be able to perform accurate computer simulations as the stewards of the world's most complex arsenal.

We would hope that the incredible brainpower of the ASC could be put to peaceful ends as well as to meeting military needs. But so long as other nations maintain their nuclear stockpiles and nuclear threat, the world's only superpower must be equipped with the world's most powerful computer.




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