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  • A world in itself

    From a height of some 50 metres, you have the entire ITER worksite at your feet. The long rectangle of the Diagnostics Building stands out in the centre, with [...]

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  • US completes toroidal field deliveries for ITER

    The US Domestic Agency achieved a major milestone in February by completing the delivery of all US-supplied toroidal field conductor to the European toroidal fi [...]

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  • Thin diagnostic coils to be fitted into giant magnets

    Last week was marked by the first delivery of diagnostic components—Continuous External Rogowski (CER) coils—from the European Domestic Agency to the ITER Organ [...]

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  • Addressing the challenge of plasma disruptions

    Plasma disruptions are fast events in tokamak plasmas that lead to the complete loss of the thermal and magnetic energy stored in the plasma. The plasma control [...]

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  • Blending (almost) seamlessly into the landscape

    Located in the foothills of the French Pre-Alps, the ITER installation blends almost seamlessly into the landscape. The architects' choice ofmirror-like steel c [...]

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Of Interest

See archived articles

The little coupler that could

-R.A.

Concrete and steel met at the end of the 19th century, never to part again. From their encounter a new material was born that revolutionized construction techniques.

This small piece of forged steel has become a key element in any large-size reinforced construction project. In the ITER Tokamak Complex alone, more than 250,000 couplers will be necessary. (Click to view larger version...)
This small piece of forged steel has become a key element in any large-size reinforced construction project. In the ITER Tokamak Complex alone, more than 250,000 couplers will be necessary.
"Reinforced concrete" brought the best of two worlds to building projects: concrete's resistance to compression and steel's resistance to both compression and tension.

Embedding steel rebar into concrete made it possible to erect 300-metre-high skyscrapers and build viaducts tens of kilometres long. Without it, the construction of a nuclear installation, which requires exceptionally high structural resistance, would not be conceivable.

At worksites throughout the world, more than 6 billion tonnes of concrete are poured every year. Depending on the nature of the construction, the density of steel reinforcement per cubic metre of concrete varies greatly: from an average of 100 kilos per cubic metre in standard civil engineering works, it can reach 600 to 700 kilos in the most strongly reinforced sections of a nuclear installation.

At the heart of ITER, the Tokamak Complex will be built with 30,000 tonnes of steel (more than four times the weight of the Eiffel Tower) for a total of 100,000 cubic metres of concrete ─ an average of 300 kilos per cubic metre.

In the SAMT workshops, on the edge of the inland sea Étang de Berre, activity is buzzing. Steel rebar from Italy is cut to size and formed according to ITER's detailed execution drawings. (Click to view larger version...)
In the SAMT workshops, on the edge of the inland sea Étang de Berre, activity is buzzing. Steel rebar from Italy is cut to size and formed according to ITER's detailed execution drawings.
The density and the geometry of the reinforcement is determined by complex computations that take into account loads, stress and—in the case of a nuclear installation—safety requirements. Construction design reinforcement drawings, which rebar installers must follow, are elaborated on this basis.

As thick as 40 mm in the most heavily reinforced areas of the ITER Tokamak Complex, the steel reinforcement bars are arranged in complex patterns and layers—imagine dozens of superimposed spider webs made of steel "thread" as thick as a maiden's wrist.

Steel bars are typically 12 metres long and cannot be butt-welded to form larger continuous structures. In order to preserve structural resistance, bars must overlap by as much as 2.5 metres for the largest among them.

This overlapping not only exacerbates the density challenge, but also results in a costly increase in steel consumption.

Fortunately some thirty years ago, rebar installers came up with a smarter solution: they developed the "coupler," a small, threaded steel connector that can join two bars.

Perfected about 15 years ago by a small rebar company just an hour's drive from ITER (SAMT in Saint-Chamas, France), this small piece of forged steel has become a key element in any large-size reinforced construction project. In the ITER Tokamak Complex alone, more than 250,000 couplers will be necessary.

Carefully traced and tagged, steel bars and couplers are delivered two to three times a week at the foot of the ITER worksite cranes. (Click to view larger version...)
Carefully traced and tagged, steel bars and couplers are delivered two to three times a week at the foot of the ITER worksite cranes.
In the SAMT workshops, on the edge of the inland sea Étang de Berre, activity is buzzing. Steel bars of all calibres, manufactured in Italy, are fed into machines to be either cut to size and formed according to ITER's detailed execution drawings or threaded to accommodate couplers. Everything is carefully traced and tagged to be delivered two to three times a week at the foot of the ITER worksite cranes.

Currently, 300 to 500 tonnes of steel bars and more than 4,000 couplers are integrated into the construction of the Tokamak Complex every month.

Compared to the size and complexity of a project such as ITER, a small piece of steel such as a coupler could appear insignificant. But by limiting the amount of steel in the structure without altering its resistance and by reducing the costs attached to steel consumption, it has proved essential and indispensable.


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