The NNSA ‘El Capitan’ supercomputer is expected to have a peak performance of more than 1.5 exaflops in computing power. (Image credit: Energy.Gov)


The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) - the federal agency responsible for safeguarding America’s nuclear stockpile, has recently announced it has signed a contract with Cray Computing to produce ‘El Capitan,’ a $600-million exascale supercomputer. According to the DOE, “El Capitan will be housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California, and perform mission-critical research to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.”


As for its research and applications, the supercomputer will have advanced capabilities for modeling and simulations utilizing AI to provide answers to national security questions, allowing those with the nuclear keys to formulate better solutions and decisions based on the data El Capitan produces. Sound familiar? It should, It’s the plot for “War Games,” only replace the fictional W.H.O.P.P.E.R with a more powerful and soon-to-be-real El Capitan.


El Capitan is part of the second phase of CORAL-2 (Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Livermore) procurement, which represents a trifecta of exascale supercomputers produced by Cray for applications in addressing threats to national security, nuclear nonproliferation, and nuclear counterterrorism. Under the hood, El Capitan is expected to have more than 1.5 exaflops of computing power, capable of performing more than a billion/billion calculations a second, or around 8-million years’ worth of Tweets in the same amount of time.


According to DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, “NNSA is modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise to face 21st-century threats. El Capitan will allow us to be more responsive, innovative, and forward-thinking when it comes to maintaining a nuclear deterrent that is second to none in a rapidly-evolving threat environment.” The El Capitan supercomputer is expected to go into production by 2023 and delivered to Lawrence Livermore shortly after that.  


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