Japanese research institutes and businesses have joined forces to develop a supercomputer program that will test the earthquake resistance of nuclear power plants.
Industry heavyweights Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Tokyo Electric Power and Takenaka Corp are working with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and the University of Tokyo to simulate the effect of powerful earthquakes on nuclear facilities. Nuclear power is appealing but a 6.8 Richter scale quake struck Niigata prefecture in 2007, causing a dangerous radioactive leak at a nuclear power plant.
Supercomputers can be used from complex medical simulations of the human body up to figuring out the velocity Pringles are fired into their tubes.
According to Japanese daily Nikkei (subscription), a conventional way to test quake resistance is using seismic simulators with miniature power plant models placed on top. But a supercomputer should accurately predict the resistance of a power plant thoroughly, from the building itself to the joinings between equipment and components.
The idea is that with the right simulations in place, Japanese business will have a competitive advantage over foreign, earthquake-prone rivals such as Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia, who are all showing interest in the technologies.
For now the researchers are using a Fujitsu supercomputer but by 2013 they will switch to a next-gen machine being developed by the Japanese Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, Riken, called Kei.