China's Tianhe-1 supercomputer back online after Tianjin blast

Data centre survives explosion as corruption accusations fly

Tianjin crater

The Tianhe-1 supercomputer in the Chinese city of Tianjin is back online.

State organs China Youth Daily and People.com.cn are both reporting, with more than a little tinge of pride, that the supercomputer survived the blast thanks to the resilience of the data centre in which it was housed.

The data centre is a couple of kilometres from the warehouse that last week exploded with extraordinary force. The warehouse was licensed to store ten tonnes of sodium cyanide but is now suspected of holding hundreds of tonnes of the substance within its walls.

Whatever the building's contents, the explosion is now reported to have killed over 140 people and dozens more, mainly firefighters, remain missing. Reports are emerging of toxic substances being found in nearby waters and odd white foam appearing in Tianjin's streets after recent rain.

Recriminations are already being felt. People's Daily reports that Yang Dongliang, director of China's State Administration of Work Safety, is being investigated for “severe violation of discipline and law”. The owners of the warehouse are being accused of securing fire safety permits through corrupt contacts and of operating a scheme to hide true ownership of the facility. China's ongoing crackdown on corruption is currently being led from the top, with president Xi Jinping recently making it a priority. Making an example of those responsible for the Tianjin incident won't hurt that effort.

The supercomputer, ranked the world's 24th most-powerful, is widely used by Chinese government agencies so returning to operations is doubtless welcome. Whether it is fully operational is harder to gauge China is keen to ensure its citizens, and the world, don't perceive disruption to its activities. Letting it be known that Tianhe-1 is crunching data again fits that narrative nicely. Perhaps too nicely. ®

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