Iter, a major project for the future of world energy
In France, in the county of the Bouches-du-Rhône, 35 countries are engaged in the construction of the biggest tokamak ever designed, which will demonstrate that fusion – the energy of the Sun and the stars – can be used as a large-scale energy source, that does not emit CO2, to produce electricity.
The results from ITER’s scientific program will be decisive in paving the way for the fusion power stations of tomorrow.
An energy project for the benefit of mankind
At the end of the WWII, the great powers of the world were split into two camps in an intense competition over energy issues. The challenge was to ensure the extraction of the resources needed for the production and distribution of energy to a growing population whose material needs had increased during the Baby Boom era.
The countries were quickly faced with the issue of supplying and storing resources. All of this in a climate of fluctuating energy costs, constantly influenced by events and a succession of geopolitical crises.
In France, nuclear energy was chosen in the 1960s as the most suitable means of quantitatively meeting the needs of the population and economic players. It was intended to gradually replace traditional production methods, such as coal.
Over the decades, an increasing awareness of environmental issues in relation to energy production has become a game changer. In addition to the quantitative issue, there is now the problem of environmental impact, and in particular of greenhouse gas emissions. Taking these risks into account has become an integral part of the debate.
In this context, key decision-makers are focusing on cooperation to further research and implement common solutions for the benefit of all humanity.
Cooperation and consensus among world powers
In the middle of the 1980s, aware of the growing issues surrounding energy, its consumption, distribution and means of production, several countries and political institutions promoted a common approach to the search for alternative energy for pacific purposes. In 1985, an international collaboration is launched: ITER for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, and the acronym also means “the path” in Latin. The ITER Organization currently includes China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States –a total of 35 countries. The ITER Council ensures its promotion and its strategic leadership.
The 42-hectare site chosen to conduct the project is located at Saint-Paul-lez-Durance (13, France), having undergone technical surveys (geological, hydrological and seismic norms; access to water and the electricity supply network). Its proximity to CEA-Cadarache, which has provided assistance, is also a major asset.
The town in Bouches-du-Rhône has thereby become the crossroads for scientists and engineers from around the world. These skills will be developed over the 35 years the project is expected to last, which will be conducted as an experiment. Because ITER is, above all, designed to make tomorrow’s power productions possible.
The challenge is to build the foundations of an alternative for electricity generation, based on the model of natural fusion which occurs at the heart of the Sun and the stars; electricity no longer produced by the energy of fossil fuels and nuclear fission reactions. This cleaner and more sustainable alternative would make it possible to develop an energy source without greenhouse gas emissions.
The experiment will be carried out using a tokamak, a machine concept created in the 1950s by Soviet scientists. The ITER tokamak is the largest ever built and the heart of this human, economic and energy project.
The ITER tokamak will be the most powerful in activity worldwide. It will be able to:
Produce 500 MW of fusion power. This record will surpass that of the European tokamak JET, at 16 MW. These 500 MW of power will result from an input of power of 50 MW, i.e. a ‘Q’ ratio of 10 (compared to 0.67 for JET).
Demonstrate the integrated operation of the technologies of a fusion power station. The ITER tokamak will make it possible to study the plasmas as they evolve in a fusion power plant and to test a multitude of technologies (heating, control, diagnosis, cryogenics, remote maintenance).
Achieve a self-maintained plasma. ITER plasmas will generate more fusion power than current plasma fuels. They will remain stable over longer periods of time.
Demonstrate the safety of a fusion device. It is one of the project’s major challenges: to show that fusion reactions at the heart of plasma will not have an impact on people or the environment.
Beyond the experimentation phase, the aim is to sell the electricity produced. Experience feedback and the knowledge and know-how consolidated on ITER will make it possible to design a demonstration reactor (DEMO) with a view to industrializing production by 2040.
One of the challenges for ITER lies in its ability to enable the future production of CO2-free energy at a time when demographic growth mechanically leads to increased consumption.
THE PHYSICS PRINCIPLE INVOLVED
The nucleus of the atom is made up of neutrons and protons, which are held together by the most intense force in nature: the powerful interaction responsible for “nuclear binding energy”. This energy can be released in two ways:
• either by splitting heavy nuclei: which is how today’s nuclear power generators operate;
• or by fusing together light nuclei: which is what happens in the stars
In a tokamak, three conditions must be met in order to create fusion reactions: an extremely high temperature (around 150 million degrees Celsius – 302 M°F), a sufficient density of particles to produce the greatest possible number of collisions, and an energy containment period long enough for the collisions to occur at the highest possible speed.
When a gas is brought to a very high temperature, the atoms split: the electrons and the nuclei are separated from each other and the gas becomes plasma (fourth state of matter). It is in this milieu that the light nuclei can fuse and generate energy.
In a tokamak, extremely powerful magnetic fields are used to contain and control the plasma.
© www.iter.org / www.cea.fr
Ortec & Iter
As a services specialist for the energy sector, at the heart of contemporary industrial and societal issues, the Ortec Group is strongly committed to being a stakeholder in the ITER project. The know-how of its teams in terms of engineering, calculation, lifting, welding, piping, etc., its expertise in the nuclear sector and its ability to manage major projects make it a recognized contributor.
This ambition, the result of years of investment in large-scale projects for nuclear players (carrying out surveys, new or maintenance works on power plants), became a reality in 2015 with the seismic survey contracts, and continues to date.
The proximity of the Ortec Group’s headquarters to the ITER site is a major advantage in terms of reactivity and mobilization of teams and equipment.
A dedicated organization
To coordinate the project’s activity and schedule – from studies to completion – the Ortec Group, through its Major Energy Projects department (GPE), is mobilizing its subsidiaries SOM and Orys, who specialize in the nuclear sector.
“This organization has been tried and tested on various energy production centers (CNPE – China Nuclear Power Engineering), over the course of DUS projects (Emergency Diesel Generators) in which the Group has also been heavily involved,” stated Yannick Fons, Director of Orys GPE.
High added-value expertise
This contract led the Ortec Group to carry out highly technical and unprecedented operations due to the experimental nature of the project. The singularity of this project means that it combines acquired specific competencies with a gradual and regular ramp of skills.
“This project encourages the development of innovations,” said Yannick Fons. Indeed, “many operations involve strong technical specificities. Manipulations and handling activities need to be anticipated and require innovation. Ortec focuses on this as operations progress in order to find the best tools for each operation.”
SOM (an Ortec Group subsidiary) performs Calculation services.
On the TB 04 contact, these services concern the flexibility and support components inside building 11 (8 levels, 27 km (16.8 miles) of piping, 11,000 supports). The teams use the 3D PDMS (Plant Design Management System) mock-up to extract the geometry of the piping and supports and to carry out the modeling of elements using dedicated software.
The Calculation assignment is manifold:
- analysis of all the applicable constraints: seismic, fire, accidents such as ‘loss of coolant’, etc.
- delivery of requirements for dedicated design standards (NF-EN 13480)
- recommendations on the necessary modifications and reinforcements for the mechanical integrity of the facility
- taking into account the facility’s real environment in order to find the optimal ‘calculation / design’ compromise
- standardization of supports
The optimization of survey, supply and manufacturing costs are also a part of the SOM teams’ commitments.
On the TAC2 contract, the Calculation assignment focuses on tooling. Following a design phase (design, CAO and manufacturing blueprints carried out by Ortec), modeling and calculation operations under operational load take place. A working group was set up ahead of time in order to advise on any potential reinforcements and their feasibility.
The Ortec Group’s “Welding, Control and Inspection” department (SCI), in support of the Orys Marcoule agency, is also mobilized.
It has designed and built a mechanized welding system to weld the hinges of the 50 doors, ensuring the absolute compartmentalization of the tokamak. Five months of tests and adjustments were needed in order to provide this special custom-made equipment. To succeed in this assignment, the SCI trains Orys’s welders and technicians in the welding and preheating program. More than 400 pages of documentation have been written.
25 kg (55 lb) of metal placed per door
10 km (15.5 miles) of welding
2 km (1.3 miles) of cables
- The Ortec teams have been mobilized on the installation of piping for cryogenic lines. Prefabricated by Air-Liquide, there are 200 spools in total, each weighing between 2 and 10 metric tons and measuring from 7 to 14 meters (23-46ft) that have been handled, lifted and installed by our teams.
- Ortec’s teams carried out the stainless steel piping lines for the PBS26 cooling circuit as part of the TCC0 contract. Prefabrication, on-site welding and hydraulic testing. 4600 welds (ASME) and 43 tons of supports installed.
As part of the DYNAMIC consortium, the Orys GPE teams are in charge of handling and lifting the component parts of the 9 sections of the tokamak.
- TF coil
- Vacuum vessel
On August 20, 2020, after several weeks of preparation and calculations, engineers and lifting crew were able to ensure the handling of a stainless steel Vacuum Vessel (VV) element and its support, with a total weight of more than 490 metric tons.
Built in South Korea, the component was shipped to the port of Fos-sur-Mer, before being transferred by road to the ITER site. All of the operations planned – lifting, moving and depositing the component in its new location, some 40 meters away – were carried out flawlessly, using an overhead crane (750 ton capacity).
At the beginning of 2021, the vertical tilting of the component was carried out by means of an upending tool before transferring it to two SSATs (tripod pillars) and then installing it in the tokamak pit.
This type of operation will be repeated eight times and enable, by 2025, the set up of the airtight vacuum vessel in which the fusion reactions will take place.
Safety, a top priority
Ortec teams assist all projects to improve prevention and secure activities in particularly exposed industrial environments, always taking care to comply with the rules and applicable standards. The Ortec Group makes individual security and the safety of installations a priority on all of its projects.
This commitment therefore, naturally serves the ITER project in all the operations on which GPE is involved. The Ortec teams working on ITER are the bearers of this safety culture. They are reliable, responsible and vigilant about the safety of operations. Ortec presents a range of certifications that confirm this commitment.
Ortec presents a range of certifications confirming this commitment.
- ISO 9001: study and performance of projects and maintenance services in the energy (nuclear, hydraulic) and industrial sectors, in the field of mechanics, electricity, dismantling, decontamination, handling and transport.
- CEFRI-E: performance of activities under ionizing radiation in nuclear facilities.
- MASE: certification for industrial maintenance activities in the fields of mechanics, valves, metalwork, piping and nuclear dismantling.
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