On Tuesday morning, two cranes hoisted the 30-ton load onto the Echion and carefully deposited it at the bottom of the cargo hold.
The Russian captain has answered the question more than a thousand times but he obviously likes to tell the story: the Echion, his 3,000-ton cargo ship, owes her name to one of the Argonauts, the ancient Greek heroes who accompanied Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece.
The Echion docked last Saturday at the Mediterranean port of La Seyne-sur-Mer, 65 kilometres east of Marseille. The load she was to take delivery of sat just on the other side of the road—a highly sophisticated, 21st century piece of equipment in a 19th century steel and red brick hall that Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) designed a century and a half ago.
The component was produced by Constructions Industrielles de la Méditerranée (CNIM), under a contract awarded by F4E, the European Domestic Agency for ITER, three years ago. Another European company, the Italian SIMIC S.P.A, also produced a radial plate prototype using different technologies.
This approach enables the Domestic Agencies in charge of procuring the actual ITER components to select the best solution before industry launches into series production. The 18-coil (plus one spare) toroidal field system in ITER will require the manufacturing of 134 radial plates—70 to be procured by Europe and 64 by Japan.
A radial plate (here at CNIM before packing and loading operations began) is a ten-ton, 8.5 x 15 metre, D-shaped stainless steel structure with grooves machined on both sides, into which insulated superconductor cable is inserted.
Radial plates are D-shaped stainless steel structures with grooves machined on both sides, into which insulated superconductor cables are inserted at a later stage. They are 112 mm thick, weigh between 5.5 and 9.7 tons and measure 8.7 by 13.8 metres.
Each of the ITER toroidal field coils contains seven radial plates, five "regular" and two "side" plates arranged in "double pancakes."
Once the Echion reaches Italy's Ligurian sea, the radial plate prototype will be delivered to the ASG Superconductor plant at La Spezia where the 450 metres of conductor will have to be shaped according to the groove trajectory then heat-treated, electrically insulated and finally inserted into the grooves.
Loading operations at La Seyne began on Monday 3 September in the middle of the night. While traffic was closed off on the narrow coastal road that runs between CNIM and the port installations, the transportation frame containing the radial plate was delicately lifted and transported to a waiting area close to the Echion.
The only "passenger" on the ship, the crate containing the radial plate prototype, was solidly fixed by way of clamps welded directly onto the cargo hold's floor.
Early in the morning, operations resumed. Two cranes hoisted the 35-ton load onto the ship and carefully deposited it at the bottom of the cargo hold. Steel clamps were then welded directly onto the hold's floor so that the load would be perfectly immobilized for the duration of the voyage to La Spezia.
By noon, the Echion was ready to sail. The Russian captain and his seven-man crew were optimistic: the weather report anticipated calm seas and clear sky for the 24 hours ahead—the time it would take to reach destination.
Click here to view a video of the operations.
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