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ITER NEWSLINE 196
The month of October is always a busy time for the ITER Organization, as the project's two top advisory bodies—the Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) and the Management Advisory Committee (MAC)—convene here in Cadarache for their semi-annual meetings. This is where the performance of the Organization is benchmarked. The Committees' appraisal of our decisions and actions is very valuable to us; over time, these advisory committee meetings have greatly helped us to evolve.
This time, the main focus of the discussions was on our strategy for addressing and mitigating potential delays, caused both by the earthquake in Japan and also the late handover (or incompleteness) of design work and delayed Procurement Arrangement signatures. In order to recover unsatisfactory schedule performance, a Special Task Group was established immediately after the last ITER Council meeting in June 2011. The Task Group, which I chair, involves representatives from the seven ITER Members on both a technical and political level. Since its implementation we have had six meetings.
The result of the work done by this Task Group is that we now have a design completion process which is substantially different from our previous processes. We have also considerably simplified our planning and scheduling strategy in order to facilitate more rapid progress.
One of the issues discussed at STAC was the central solenoid conductor. Latest test results showed that the conductor's performance has significantly improved with respect to the tests carried out at the end of 2010 (Newsline 173) but still does not fully meet the specification. Our proposal to use this conductor in the lower central solenoid module; for this module, the expected loads are low enough to assure the lifetime of that coil.
Regarding the cold testing of the toroidal field coils, the STAC will recommend to the ITER Council that all coils be tested at 77 Kelvin. In Japan, where an ongoing risk analysis may demonstrate sufficient confidence in the performance of the toroidal field coils without cold testing, a different strategy may be followed. MAC has therefore asked me to review the ITER Organization's strategy and to work with the Japanese Domestic Agency to achieve a plan that assures sufficient confidence.
It genuinely falls within the responsibility of MAC to balance any technical risks against cost, schedule and funding risks. But let's be reminded that one variable in this equation is absolutely inflexible: We must not overstep the construction cost ceiling requested by the ITER Council. To do so would necessitate a tremendous effort to assure continued funding for the ITER Project.
With the present knowledge of the project's costs and construction schedule, it is evident that to meet the cost goal it will be necessary to defer a number of subsystems and components to the Operation Phase, and to pay for those items by a reduction in other operational costs. The only item of sufficient value to accomplish a sufficient reduction in the operations budget in the early years of the operation phase is the second divertor. In short, we can no longer afford to pursue two different divertor designs.
The plan is thus to begin operations with a tungsten divertor from the start, instead of a carbon-fiber divertor for the beginning of operations and a tungsten divertor for deuterium-tritium operation in 2027.
Even though both I and the experts within the ITER Organization are confident that the risks associated with a tungsten divertor right from the commission phase are manageable, we have not reached an unanimous position among the ITER Members on this issue. It may be that we have to postpone this decision and continue work on both technologies to resolve the remaining technical problems and risks.
Other deferrals include some of the heating systems, specific diagnostics, hot cell tools and tritium plant systems. In total, these deferrals amount to more than EUR 200 million.
These important issues will next be discussed at the ninth ITER Council on 17-18 November.
In the day-to-day scramble of a busy international organization like ITER, it's not always easy to step back and measure the progress accomplished. The level of complexity and detail of the project, the pace of daily activity, and the tight operational constraints of budget and schedule all mean that it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Once a year, however, the Annual Report attempts to do just that: step back and resume the progress, small and large, accomplished around the world in pursuit of building ITER.
The year 2010—the ITER Organization's fourth year of operation—was full of "turning point" events. The adoption of the ITER Baseline, the nomination of the second Director-General in the history of the Organization, and the beginning of construction activity on the platform all date back to a pivotal extraordinary session of the ITER Council in July 2010.
The report also describes the progress made in the areas of the ITER licensing procedure, design completion, procurement, and the manufacturing in all Member countries.
Read more about ITER progress in the 2010 ITER Organization Annual Report.
For only the second time in its history, after a first public appearance in Nice in December 2007, the ITER project will be showcased on the industrial stage. The ITER Business Forum 2011 (IBF/11) will take place on 7-8 December in Manosque with the participation and support of the ITER Organization and the European Domestic Agency Fusion for Energy (F4E). The event is organized in conjunction with the F4E Industrial Liaison Officers Network, the French ITER Industrial Committee, the regional network of Chambers of Trade and Industry, and the "Communauté de Communes Luberon-Durance-Verdon."
IBF/11 aims to provide European industry with updated information on the status of ITER Project, the procurement process, and the calls for tender planned for the next two years. The plenary talk on ITER progress will be given by Rich Hawryluk, ITER Deputy Director-General and Head of the Administration Department. The plenary session will be followed by a set of thematic workshops, with ITER staff participating, on ITER and F4E purchasing procedures and specific systems and components.
IBF/11 also aims to improve mutual understanding between ITER and industry. In order to facilitate contacts, business-to-business meetings (one-to-one) can be arranged online at www.ibf11.com from early November through 5 December. A dinner is planned on 7 December to enhance networking. A visit to the site will allow IBF/11 participants to measure the scale of the ITER Project with their own eyes.
Companies from Europe are especially encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to get in direct contact with the ITER Organization, F4E and others involved in the world-spanning ITER project. Companies from within Europe can contact their national Industrial Liaison Officers (ILO) for any additional information.
Email contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
The Developing Research Center (DRC) is a leading policy research and consulting institution directly under Chinese State Council—in sum, the top think tank of the Chinese government. Its main function is to undertake research on long-term strategic issues concerning China's economic and social development. One of the DRC goals is to develop links with the international community and cooperation with major international organizations.
On Friday 28 October, President Mr. Wei LI and a delegation from DRC came to ITER to visit the construction site and to learn more about the international aspects of this world-spanning energy project.
"We have made the impossible possible!" it says on the website of the Dutch company 3D-Metal Forming. The company was successful recently in demonstrating its technology—explosive metal forming—in an R&D project for Airbus in which it manufactured complex aircraft components like the cockpit fuselage.
The technology of explosive metal forming was originally developed to manufacture components for fusion reactors. 3D-Metal Forming presses metal plates up to six centimetres thick into every conceivable shape using shockwaves, without the material becoming weak and incurring hairline fractures. "We place the metal plates on top of a mould in a tank of water," explains Director Hugo Groeneveld. "Next, we precisely detonate explosives and the resulting shockwaves in the water press the metal plate into every desired shape. Using this technology we can make amazingly complex metal shapes."
In 2005, 3D-Metal Forming could only process metal plates up to 15 mm thick. "We were then asked if we could scale this up by a factor of four," says Groeneveld. The reason for this request: ITER! The ITER Tokamak has many large, curved components that are difficult to produce using a punch or a press. "3D-Metal Forming possesses a unique technology for applications like fusion reactor components," says Industrial Liaison Officer Toon Verhoeven from ITER-NL.
Based on this request from the fusion community, the company developed a large-scale application of its technology. This work was supported by ITER-NL, a collaboration of Dutch scientific institutions formed to involve Dutch companies in the construction of ITER.
Airbus and 3D-Metal Forming are now investigating a follow-up order. And—hot off the press—3D-Metal Forming is back to the fusion business as well. Just this week, the company was awarded a contract by the European ITER Domestic Agency Fusion for Energy to deliver a series of bimetal tubes as part of a qualification program.
The tubes consist of stainless steel on one end and a copper alloy (CuCrZr) at the other. Explosive welding enables the company to connect these two metals without melting them, ensuring that the CuCrZr maintains its structure. 3D-Metal Forming has also performed explosive welding work of copper on molybdenum for use in the neutral beam injectors for ITER being designed by the RFX-Consortium in Italy that resulted in a very solid bonding of molybdenum to copper, tested under extreme heat loads.
3D-Metal Forming, which trades under the name "Exploform," was founded in 1998 as a spin-off from the "Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research"(TNO).
In the spring of 1951, less than one decade after Enrico Fermi initiated the first self-sustained fission reaction in a stack of uranium and graphite blocks, newspapers from all over the world carried sensational news: in Argentina, thanks to a "new method" described by The New York Times as "linked to the Sun," scientists had just discovered a new way to make atom yield power.
The source of this worldwide excitement was a news conference that had been held on 24 March in Buenos Aires by Argentinian president Juan Perón. Argentina, he claimed, had successfully produced "the controlled liberation of atomic energy," not through uranium fuel, but rather through the simplest and lightest of all elements, hydrogen. The discovery, he added, was "transcendental for the future life" of his nation and would bring "a greatness which today we cannot imagine."
For the scientific world this discovery had a name: "controlled thermonuclear fusion."
How could Argentina, then a largely rural immigrant nation of barely 16 million inhabitants, have achieved what the US and the Soviet Union had not even begun contemplating? Fusing light atoms was certainly a top priority for the two nations racing to build the hydrogen bomb. But the US was still a year and a half away from detonating its first thermonuclear device—a milestone the Soviets would not achieve before August 1953.
In this context, claiming that controlled fusion had been achieved was hardly believable. And promising, as Perón did, a future where energy would be "sold in half-litre bottles, like milk," did nothing to convince the world scientific community.
Perón's claim was based on the works of an Austrian-born scientist and recent immigrant to Argentina named Ronald Richter (1909-1991). However obscure at the time, Richter had succeeded in convincing the authorities to build and fund a large fusion lab on the remote mountain lake island of Isla Huemul. There, in the Andean wilderness, Perón's "new Argentina" would demonstrate to the world that it could play in the same league as the US and the Soviet Union.
Millions of pesos were poured into the secret Proyecto Huemul (in today's euros, close to 250 million); a 40-foot high concrete bunker was built to shelter the "reactor" and in a matter of years, Richter and his small crew had their operation running. On 16 February 1951 they reported a "net positive result" for the first time: hydrogen, fed into an electric arc, had reached a temperature sufficient to produce fusion reactions, duly measured by way of a... Geiger counter.
It didn't take the international scientific community very long to dismiss the Perón-Richter claim as a total prank, the first in a long series of such unverifiable assertions and unreproducible experiments that were to punctuate the history of fusion research.
Richter was eventually jailed for having "misled" President Perón and having embarrassed him on the international scene, but the unveiling of Proyecto Huemul triggered what is now recognized as the first decisive step into serious research in controlled fusion.
Every fusion history book tells the story of how Lyman Spitzer, then a 36-year-old astrophysicist attached to the US "H" bomb program, received a phone call from his father telling him about the news from Argentina; how he pondered for days, while skiing in Aspen, Colorado, about the possibility of confining a hot plasma in a magnetic field; and how, eventually, he presented the newly formed US Atomic Energy Commission with a proposal to build a "magnetic bottle" within which the fire of the Sun and stars could be reproduced.
A little more than two years later, in the fall of 1953, Spitzer's "figure 8 stellarator" was ready for experiments, marking the true beginning of the long, arduous and often frustrating road that eventually led to ITER.
The dust of history has long since settled on Proyecto Huemul, but the question remains as to whether Richter was a half-mad scientist or a genuine pioneer in fusion research. Quite unexpectedly, in 2003, the question found its way into the science magazine Physics Today.
The publication of an article about scientific research in Argentina in the 1950s (Jan 2003, Vol. 56, N°1), which touched on the issue of Richter and Proyecto Huemul, triggered an interesting exchange between the article's author, physicist Juan Roederer, and physicist and fusion activist Friedwardt Winterberg of the University of Nevada.
Responding to the article's affirmation that Richter was a "physicist/impostor," Winterberg argued in the "Letters to the Editor" section of the magazine that "Richter's work was not far off from what was done in the US [at the time] and [that] some of his ideas, like ion acoustic plasma heating, were new."
Roederer admitted in return that it was "difficult to determine whether Richter was a clever impostor or a scientific nut." His letter concluded with a quote from Edward Teller—a towering figure in nuclear physics if there ever was one—who had once said: "Reading one line [of Richter's] one has to think he's a genius. Reading the next line, one realizes he's crazy."
More in this Feb 2011 article from Wired magazine and in this detailed report (in German) on the Richter Experiment. For further insight into fusion's rocky history, you can also read Robin Herman's book Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy and Charles Seife's Sun in a bottle, The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking.