A crucial milestone in the licensing process of ITER was reached last Monday 23 March as we received the Advisory Opinion of the French Environmental Authority on our Demande d'autorisation de Création—better known within ITER as "the DAC files."
The seven-volume, 5,243-page DAC files constitute a fundamental legal document providing an in-depth description of the ITER installation, the Preliminary Safety Report (RPrS), a detailed Impact Study and other required licensing files.
A lot of hard work throughout the Organization went into the Impact Study which was updated last December and sent to the French government.
Experts from the Autorité environnementale, a specialized agency of the Ministry of Ecology, Sustained Development, Transport and Housing, have since analyzed the Impact Study and the non-technical summaries.
The Autorité formulated an Advisory Opinion ("Avis") in the form of a 19-page document that we received last Wednesday.
The "Avis" includes several recommendations. The experts, for instance, asked us to rewrite some parts of the non-technical summaries in order to make them more accessible to the general public; they also requested a more detailed description of some of the impacts of the installation.
We will of course observe these recommendations and modify our text accordingly.
We have committed ourselves to producing the final document by the end of April. This means a lot of hard work for many of us; it also means that the Enquête Publique could begin before the summer, which is a major milestone for the project.
The updated DAC files will be the basis upon which the local public will formulate its opinion on our project.
Throughout this whole process, we have observed the regulations of our Host country and, more specifically, the 2006 Law on Nuclear Transparency and Security.
As important as observing national regulations, however, is our commitment to the local public. It is our deep conviction that our neighbours are entitled to thorough and detailed information on our project and its impact on our shared environment.
It is early February and the thermometer has dropped to minus 29 degrees Celsius... cold, even by Finnish standards, and the wind doesn't help. "We highly recommend not going out tonight. This is supposed to be the coldest night of the year," says the receptionist in the hotel lobby as she hands over the room keys. We willingly follow her advice.
The next morning the mercury hasn't budged. Dressed for an arctic expedition and equipped with tires that have spikes, the group of technical officers from the ITER Organization drives through Tampere for twenty minutes to reach VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland. It is here that ITER's European Domestic Agency has built the test-stand for the ITER Divertor, the component within the machine that will have to face the highest thermal loads during operations—the heat flux will be up to 20 MW/m². The fact that, of all the places in the world, the divertor is being tested here in Europe's "icehouse" is the standing joke. Engineer Karoliina Saminen welcomes the group by saying, "Yes, here in Tampere we are used to extreme conditions!"
The climatic conditions, of course, are not the reason why the Divertor Test Platform 2 (DTP2) has been established in Finland. It is rather because of the long experience that engineers at VTT and those at the nearby Tampere University of Technology have in the field of water hydraulics. As oil is a "no go" in a nuclear environment such as ITER, (see Textbox) water is the only fluid that can be used within the hydraulics that will move 10-ton divertor cassettes into position with millimetre precision.
On this morning in early February, the group is present to witness, once again, what "millimetre precision" truly means.
As an electrical servo-motor actuates the giant structure, the DTP Cassette Multi Mover (CMM) transports a divertor cassette (3.5 m long x 2.5 m high) through the remote handling port and into the ITER-scale vacuum chamber. While the CMM is bedded on rails, the actual cassette is only county levered by a special end effector. Transport must be executed with pinpoint accuracy because the trajectory is such that delicate plasma-facing elements of the cassette have to pass within a couple of centimetres of the vacuum vessel surfaces. The cassette, which has been preloaded with a force of ten tons to withstand the electromagnetic forces acting on it, needs to be tilted, returned to vertical position, and pushed to one side before its knuckle can lock into its final position. "This is what I call an acrobatic design," says engineer Alex Martin, who has witnessed this procedure many times—and each time with fascination.
Given the extreme forces in play in fusion reactions, maintenance will be among the critical success factors of the ITER project. Once D-T operation begins, it will be impossible to make changes, conduct inspections, or repair any of the Tokamak components in the activated areas other than by remote handling. Knowing that this will be the threshold for the success of ITER, it was decided about five years ago to build a full test-stand for the divertor and to test the tools and the technology. DTP-2 was finally inaugurated and today, the test-stand is almost complete. The only thing left to install is the "Cassette Toroidal Mover" which will be responsible for moving cassettes around the corner—"the most difficult part of the operation," according to Mario Merola, Head of ITER's Internal Components Divison.
The DTP test-stand is operated from a control room within the huge hall at VTT. From there, operators like Vesa Hämäläinen and Jaakko Karjalainen can observe and direct the moves of the actuated machine during the test runs. Operators rely upon virtual reality models, imitating future ITER operation when the remote handling operations will be conducted from a room located far from the vacuum chamber—and this with millimetre accuracy. Failure is not an option! Behind their commands, Vesa and Jaakko are busy calibrating and testing the software and the camera viewing systems that will help them "to push the camel through the eye of a needle" as this difficult task was once described.
In the future, the Cassette Toroidal Mover and a specially developed manipulator, allowing the remote installation and exchange of all cassettes within a 80 degrees torus sequence, will be installed. This technology will ultimately ensure safe maintenance operations in ITER and fusion power plants, but may also be interesting for other industrial applications, as a look at the VTT's guest book shows. Here, engineers from all over the world have expressed their interest in this remote handling technology, and their fascination for it. One of the comments comes from the University of Utah: "I love your toys!"
Click to watch the ITER video Like pushing a camel through the eye of a needle.
Click again to watch VTT-produced video shot of remote operations at the DTP2.
Annaelle, Anthony, Clara, Julien, Mathieu, and Océane were visiting the ITER site for the first time. Equipped with site gear, and pen and paper in hand, they had two short days to discover the ITER project, visit the ongoing works, interview a few of the ITER "actors", and write and realize a two-page newsletter, the ITERview.
Chosen from among the junior high schools of the region, these five young people were participating in the 16th edition of the Rencontres Cadarache-Jeunes, an annual event that gathers nearly 200 ninth-grade students to the CEA site to participate in workshops intended to "offer a direct approach to the various scientific disciplines represented at the CEA, introduce them to a scientific and technological research centre, and put them in contact with the men and women who have made science their profession."
For the five students who were assigned to the ITER workshop, the goal was to learn the basics of scientific communication—research, writing, interviewing and computer layout. To all appearances, they had fun doing it. The result of their work is colourful, playful and informative. In addition to informational articles about fusion, the ITER machine and the construction project, they enjoyed asking fellow classmates "What do you know about ITER?" Answers ranged from "It's a thing that spins" to "Why, it's the future of energy!"
The production of the ITERview was overseen by Sylvie André from Agence Iter France, with layout support from Myriam Jacobs. Read the ITERview (in French) here.
Ambitious young people, in France, can tread such prestigious avenues to technical excellence as École Polytechnique, École Centrale, École des Mines, or any other of the famed French grandes écoles.
Or they can choose the more humble and generally overlooked alleyway of "apprenticeship" which combines on-the-job training with academic learning and provides an early, in-depth experience of the work environment.
Because he could never "remain seated for more than two hours in a row," Nicolas Robic always chose the humble alleyway over the prestigious avenues: Technical Diploma, B.S., Master's... he earned them all by way of work-study programs.
He does not regret it: at 27, as APAVE Health and Safety Coordinator for the European Domestic Agency Fusion for Energy (F4E), Nicolas is a young man with considerable responsibility on his shoulders.
Those of us who have business on the ITER work site know him as the smiling, but inflexible, enforcer of safety regulations—the man who will check that you always have your hardhat on and that you never step where you're not supposed to.
This, however, is only a small part of his mission. "By law," he explains, "any Building owner must have a Health and Security Coordinator. This function is generally subcontracted to a company specialized in risk-control, a solution that keeps the Building Owner from being both judge and party."
As Building Owner, F4E delegates risk-control implementation on the ITER work site to APAVE, a French company that was established more than a century and a half ago and serves some 200,000 clients around the world.
Building on his experience from the Laser Megajoule (LMJ) inertial fusion project between 2004-2009, Nicolas sees himself as "the voice of safety on behalf of the Building Owner" on the work site.
Safety relies on anticipation, and a part of Nicolas' mission consists of assisting both Building Owner and Architect/Engineer (in the case of ITER, the Engage Consortium) in the preparation of the "future maintenance" of the buildings.
"I have to make sure, for instance, that the buildings' design provides for safety equipment such as guardrails of the required height or convenient access staircases to the roof. I have to tackle issues that architects generally disregard: How will the bridge cranes be maintained? How will the light bulbs be replaced when the lighting systems stand 20 metres above ground? And this holds for all 39 buildings that will be erected on the ITER platform..."
Another essential part of Nicolas' mission, in close cooperation with the Architect/Engineer, is to coordinate the activities of the different companies operating on site such as organizing working areas, access and circulation.
The ITER platform, at times, can be a very busy place, with concrete being poured here when trucks and scrapers rush around and raise dust there—not to mention the mining operations when the Tokamak Seismic Pit was being excavated.
"I spend a lot of time on site making sure that safety rules are observed. It is not a 'cop's' job—I'm more like a counsellor, or an adviser. But I can be a tough law enforcer when needed... F4E's objective is "zero accidents" and we all have to work hand-in-hand to achieve that."
Apart from "having to speak English," Nicolas' present work is not very different from his previous experiences at LMJ or at the EPR nuclear reactor worksite in Flamanville, Normandy. Meticulous and organized, he sticks reminders on his office walls such as "Expression of the Day" and "Mistakes to avoid"...
Every Monday, Nicolas takes the 7:00 a.m. flight from Bordeaux, where he lives with his soon-to-be wife, to Marseille. He is not considering moving to Provence for the moment. A passionate body-boarder, he's not ready to trade the barrel waves of the Atlantic for the wavelets of the Mediterranean.
The IO-DA Safety and Quality Assurance Working Group (SQAWG) held its 13th meeting on 30-31 March in Cadarache.
Bringing together representatives from the ITER Organization (IO) and the Domestic Agencies (DAs), the SQAWG was established
in 2008 to provide a channel of communication and forum for discussion with the ITER DAs in regards to safety and quality assurance concerns.
The working group usually meets four times a year, twice by videoconference and twice in person.
The agenda of the two-day meeting chaired by DDG Carlos Alejaldre of the Safety, Quality and Security Department included a workshop on the Manufacturing and Inspection Plan (MIP) with a case study on a pressure vessel; presentations by all DAs on the way they control their supply chain; a presentation by IO staff on the status of licensing process; procurement documentation exchange between the IO, DAs and contractors; and finally, the Nuclear Safety Control System quality plan.
If you happen to pass through the German town of Düsseldorf in the next days or weeks, make sure that you reserve some time for a visit to the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
, North-Rhine Westphalia's contemporary art collection. Fascinated by "the innards of the machines that manufacture the future," the Düsseldorf-based artist Thomas Struth is currently exposing some large-format photographs of Asdex Upgrade, the tokamak based at the Institute for Plasmaphysics in Garching.
Struth is among the most important representatives of contemporary German photography. Born in 1954, his wide-ranging work includes depictions of detailed cityscapes, Asian jungles and family portraits. Along with Andreas Gursky, he is one of Germany's most widely exhibited and collected fine art photographers. His work has been widely shown in solo and group exhibitions, among them the Venice Biennale, the Documenta IX at Kassel, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Tate Collection in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of New York. In 2007, he became the first contemporary artist ever to be exhibited at the Museo del Prado, Madrid, amidst the permanent collection of old masters.
So what leads an artist from shooting family portraits to the sober technology of a plasma chamber? "One day, on an airplane, I read an article about fusion and I found myself both fascinated and shocked by the complexity of this endeavor. I asked myself whether mankind will be happier in the future through technological achievements like this, a thought that now, after the disaster happening in Japan, has become even more urgent. But knowing about the long timescales fusion scientists have been working with, I wanted to see and understand why they get as entangled as they do. To get this entangled, they have to really believe in something in almost a religious way. So what I am showing in my images is the entanglement and the intensity, and the forgetting of everything else."
The exhibition is open until 19 June 2011. Additional venues are London (Whitechapel Gallery, 6 July-16 September 2011) and Porto (Museu Fundação Serralves, 14 October 2011-29 January 2012).