Argonne's modeling and simulation expertise to explore alternative sustainable sources of energy

By Eleanor TaylorDecember 18, 2008

Two computational scientists in the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory have been awarded a total of 37,500,000 hours of computing time on the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) to investigate safe and cost effective methods for developing nuclear energy.

Through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) allocations, Argonne researchers will conduct simulations of advanced nuclear energy research on the ALCF's energy-efficient IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer known as Intrepid. One of only two DOE leadership-class computers, Intrepid provides a peak performance of 556 teraflops. Calculations of this magnitude would not have been possible without resources at the Blue Gene/P scale.

Paul Fischer was awarded 30 million hours to carry out first-principles-based simulation and analysis of reactor core cooling. Andrew Siegel was awarded 7.5 million hours to conduct detailed numerical experiments of thermal striping in sodium-cooled fast reactors.

"Advanced simulation can greatly reduce facilities' costs by allowing us to better identify and target the physical experiments that underlie their design," said Siegel, the lab's nuclear simulation project leader.

Argonne's nuclear and chemical engineers are collaborating with the two computer scientists to develop precise computer simulations of the physical changes that would occur in next-generation nuclear systems, such as advanced fast reactors, which permit recycling of nuclear fuel and are expected to be economical sources of power.

"Argonne's modeling and simulation work in support of advanced nuclear energy systems is a natural outgrowth of Argonne's expertise in nuclear energy," said Ewing Lusk, director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne . "Access to the powerful Blue Gene/P in the ALCF will enable our computational scientists to conduct large-scale simulations and provide insight into major scientific issues."

Fischer and Siegel are also using simulation to explore other important aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including neutron transport, and fuel and structure behavior.

"The U.S. Department of Energy is moving toward greater reliance on computer simulation and modeling to conduct nuclear energy research," said Fischer. "We will use advanced simulation to gain insights into design improvements leading to increased safety and economy of advanced reactors."

Their research has the potential to dramatically expand the availability of safe, clean nuclear energy to help meet the growing global energy demand.

The awards are made through the 2009 INCITE program, which was established by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science six years ago to support computationally intensive, large-scale research projects.