Idaho National Laboratory Gets New Supercomputer for Simulation of Advanced Reactor Designs and the Fuels that Will Power Them

A powerful new supercomputer arrived in December at Idaho National Laboratory’s Collaborative Computing Center. The machine has the capability to run complex modeling and simulation applications, which are essential to developing next-generation nuclear technologies and the fuels that will power them.

Swatooth Mountains from Redfish Lake, ID

The Sawtooth Mountains as viewed from a boat on Redfish Lake near Stanley, ID

Named after a central Idaho mountain range, the Sawtooth supercomputer will be available to users in early 2020.

The $19.2 million system will enable researchers at INL and elsewhere to simulate new fuels and reactor designs, greatly reducing the time, resources and funding needed to transition advanced nuclear technologies from the concept phase into the marketplace.

By using simulations to predict how new fuels and designs will perform in a reactor environment, engineers can select the most promising technologies for the real-world experiments, saving time and money.

John Wagner, the associate laboratory director for INL’s Nuclear Science and Technology directorate, said Sawtooth plays an important role in developing and deploying advanced nuclear technologies and is a key capability for the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC).

nuclear TRLs

In August, the U.S. Department of Energy designated INL to lead NRIC, which was established to provide developers the resources to test, demonstrate and assess performance of new nuclear technologies, critical steps that must be completed before they are available commercially.

Use of Technology Readiness Levels to Asses Development Progress

One of the processes is to establish technology readiness levels that allow for objective evaluation of the maturity of development efforts.


The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) process is used to quantitatively assess the maturity of a given technology. The TRL process has been developed and successfully used by DOD and NASA for development and deployment of new technology and systems. NASA has also successfully used the TRL process to develop and deploy new systems, and to qualify them for flight, for space applications.

Advanced nuclear fuels and materials development are critical items needed for closing the nuclear fuel cycle. Because the deployment of a new nuclear fuel forms requires a lengthy and expensive research, development, and demonstration program, applying the TRL concept to the advanced reactor design and fuel development an essential management and tracking tool.

“With advanced modeling and simulation and the computing power now available, we expect to be able to dramatically shorten the time it takes to test, manufacture and commercialize new nuclear technologies,” Wagner said.

“Other industries and organizations, such as aerospace, have relied on modeling and simulation to bring new technologies to market much faster without compromising safety and performance.”

Sawtooth is funded by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy through the Nuclear Science User Facilities program. It will provide computer access to researchers at INL, other national laboratories, industry and universities. Idaho’s three research universities will be able to access Sawtooth and INL’s other supercomputers remotely via the Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON), an ultra-high-speed fiber optic network.

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