Today, Monday, 21 July, scientists and engineers from the ITER Organization and the Domestic Agencies have come together for a two day meeting in Cadarache to elaborate and finally freeze the design of the ITER Vacuum Vessel. "This review is very important as in regards to the vessel's safety class components and as for its many interfaces with other systems", Gary Johnson, Deputy Director General, responsible for the ITER Tokamak, said in his introductory remarks.
"Also", he stressed, "the vessel procurement is critical for the overall project schedule."
On 24-25 June, representatives of the ITER Organization visited the Chepetsky Mechanical Plant (CMP), in Glazov, Siberia, which belongs to the TVEL Corporation, and got acquainted with all the preparatory work to set up a production facility for mass production of superconductors for ITER. The IO delegates greatly appreciated all the work carried out at the Glazov's plant to transfer know-how from experimental level to commercialization and mass production. The plant is unique since it includes all manufacturing steps for the fabrication of the superconducting strands (both Nb3Sn and NbTi) from melting and casting of the alloys to the transformation of composite billets and the drawing down of fine-filament wires, as well as the related Quality Assurance and Quality Control procedures. During the visit, the ITER delegation verified that the CMP is getting ready to tackle the challenging requirements for the development of the strands. Mass production will start upon successful completion of the pre-qualification phase and process qualification. The SULTAN tests for the RF Conductor Performance Qualification Sample are currently foreseen to take place this autumn at CRPP in Switzerland.
According to the leader of the ITER delegation, Arnaud Devred, the CMP was the twelfth and last potential superconductors' supplier to be visited by the IO. "We were amazed with what we saw." Mr. Devred stressed in particular the professionalism of the staffing in place, the tight quality control procedures, the modern equipment and the extreme cleanliness of the production facilities, a striking example of relying on the available experience in the nuclear fission area of the plant to provide an excellent synergy for the production of superconducting wires. "It's a key element for the manufacture of superconductors and ensuring the quality of the strands."
Arnaud Devred singled out the crucial advantage of the close ties that the CMP has with developers of the superconductor's technology VNIINM (Bochvar Institute for Organic Materials, Moscow) "We were also very impressed by the fact that the CMP purchased a lot of new equipment customized for fabricating the ITER strands and that would be adequate for commercial application. In principle this will allow an advantage in terms of schedule due to the supply chain optimization," said Mr. Devred.
At Cadarache, two rivers and four "départements" meet. We all know what a river is, but what exactly is a "departement"? Departements were created in 1790, the year following the French Revolution. The intention was to replace the traditional provinces by a new, supposedly more rational administrative unit. The departements' size and outline were determined by the distance a rider could travel within one day from the departement's capital, or "chef lieu". The departements' names carefully avoided any reference to the traditional provinces, which had formed the backbone of the "old regime's" administration — they were all were to be named after geographic terms, mostly those of rivers and mountains.
There were 83 departements in 1790, by now there are 95, plus six overseas territories. License plates bear their number and, in several instances, this number is used in place of the name — you'll hear French people saying they live in "le 13" or work in "le 04"...
For almost two centuries departements were ruled by a "prefet", representing the Republic and the government. In 1982, the "decentralization laws" transferred the departement's executive to the elected President of the General Council (Conseil General). The Republic's authority remained in the hands of the prefet, but the General Council now had jurisdiction over roads, social services, transportation and middle-school, or junior high education — which is called "college" in French.
The four departements which meet at Cadarache are Bouches-du-Rhone, (#13), with a population of almost 2 millions inhabitants; Vaucluse (# 84, pop. 500000); Alpes-de-Haute Provence, one of the largest and least populated of all French departements (#04, pop. 146000) and Var (#83, pop. ~1 million).
The allegories of these four departements, salvaged from the 1935 bridge, stand guard at the southern entrance of the new Pont de Mirabeau, which was rebuilt in 1989.
Barcelona is always worth a visit. For scientists, young researchers and policymakers it was a must to travel to the Catalan capital as the European Open Science Forum (ESOF), Europe's biggest science fair, was held there this year.
The ITER Organization was represented with its own exhibition stand, as was the European Domestic Agency "Fusion for Energy". And the response was impressive.
In a special and well-attended session on Friday afternoon chaired by Friedrich Wagner, three leading experts on fusion tried to find an answer to the provocative question whether fusion will always be 40 years away. "Fusion was only seriously pursued as a result of an oil crisis", David Ward from the UKAEA replied. Given the necessary funding, fusion could deliver power to the grid in less than 30 years, he stated.
Great interest was shown in the introduction to the ITER project presented by David Campbell, ITER Assistant Deputy Director General, and the progress made in fusion material research presented by Hans—Harald Bolt from the Research Centre in Julich, Germany. Questions covered such subjects as how to extract energy from the Tokamak, the number of fusion power plants that would be needed to meet 80% of our future energy needs and the reasons for no private funding to date.
ESOF 2008 website
It is a rare privilege, at this stage of the program, to have a real touch and feel experience of what ITER is going to be. Most people within the ITER Organization (IO) relate to the machine through computer models, graphs, layouts and blueprints. Arnaud Devred, the Superconductor Systems and Auxiliaries section leader, is one of the few who is already involved in the actual, industrial, making of the machine. "Half of my time, since I've joined the IO last summer, is devoted to visiting Domestic Agencies and factories in China, Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia or the USA where production of superconducting components will soon be starting."
Superconductivity has been Devred's realm ever since he graduated from Supelec, one of the most prestigious and selective of French "Grandes ecoles". His first professional experience was with the ill-fated Superconducting Super Collider (SSC): "I worked for that program for 6 and a half years, first with the design team at Berkeley, then on site at Waxahachie, Texas. When the project was cancelled in 1993, the US had already invested nearly two billion dollars, and the first 12 miles of the projected 64 miles tunnel had been dug — this taught me a lot about how politics can ruin a very promising scientific project..."
Managing a European Activity on niobium-tin technology at CEA-Saclay, while commuting to CERN for more than 10 years to assist in the prototyping and the production follow up of niobium-titanium magnets for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have made up for that first, unfortunate though enriching experience.
Arnaud Devred brings to ITER not only his expertise in superconducting science and technology but an acute perception of the industrial challenges to be faced: "Niobium-tin current production is in the order of 15 tons per year; ITER will need more than 500 tons. This means we have to help the industry develop considerable new capacities."
Recently, Arnaud Devred rode a train for 16 hours to get from Moscow to a large nuclear facility that has been adapted "at a great expense", to deliver superconducting components for ITER (see article in this issue). "The industrial machine is gaining momentum," says the French-born scientist. "Nothing is likely to stop it."