Tuesday May 17, 2016

Supercomputing Helping Clean Up Manhattan Project Waste

More than seven decades after the end of WWII, radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project is still awaiting cleanup. Progress at sites around the countryآ—the largest is Hanford in southeastern Washingtonآ—has been slow, costly and plagued with problems. Cleaning up radioactive waste is incredibly complicated. It’s a little separating certain grains of sand from the rest of a beach. And it’s not enough to separate radioactive elements from other waste. Some elements stay radioactive for thousands of years; some for hundreds. Scientists have to separate these from one another for safe storage. The job is so complicated that some of the cleanup methods have yet to be invented.

Now a coalition of scientists is using GPU-accelerated supercomputing to better understand the radioactive materials inside storage tanks and find safe, inexpensive ways to remove and store them. "When they built atomic weapons, nobody knew how dangerous this stuff was," said David Dixon, a chemistry professor at The University of Alabama who is principal investigator on the project. The scientists are using one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, Titan at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to study the chemistry of radioactive elements called actinides آ— uranium, plutonium and other metals that release huge amounts of energy when their atoms are split. Equipped with NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, Titan gives scientists the speed they need to conduct many experiments in a short time.