you're currently reading the news digest published from 05 May 2014 to 12 May 2014



The "spot-the-differences" game

Transparent skies, subtle shades of green in the fields and forests, glittering white, snow-capped Alpine peaks ... the countryside around ITER was at its best on Wednesday 30 April when these pictures were shot from a helicopter. Looking north, this view takes in the whole of the ITER site (with the exception of the spoil disposal area to the east of the platform). Comparing it to the images from the previous aerial survey in September 2013, also by helicopter, we can easily play the 'spot-the-differences game.' There's obviously a new and distinctive feature on the ITER site: standing close the Poloidal Field Coils Winding Facility, the Cryostat Workshop, of which only the concrete slab was visible in September 2013, is now standing tall—taller, in fact, than its immediate neighbour. Less spectacular, the 3,500-square-metre Headquarters Building extension on the opposite site of the platform, has now reached the 4th level of the original building. It should be completed and delivered in July. Barely discernible behind the ITER Headquarters, the vacant plot of land between the entrance road and the visitors' parking lot has been transformed into a 6,000-square-metre storage area for ITER components before they are assembled in the machine. As for progress in the Tokamak Pit itself, although it is not visible in this new aerial view it has been considerable: in less than eight months, concrete was poured on the Diagnostics Building side of the slab and for approximately one-third of the Tritium Building. In September 2013, only one level of rebar covered the central area of the Tokamak Pit. Now, with the exception of a small circular surface at the very centre, the steel reinforcement is 16 layers thick.

ITER Robots: a laboratory for future engineers

Tusday 6 May was the final of the ITER Robots Contest, organized by Agence Iter France and the ITER Organization in collaboration with two French institutions—the Académie d'Aix-Marseille and the IRFM magnetic fusion research institute. For the second time running the city of Manosque was host to the competition, which has been run annually since 2012. After nine months spent imagining, designing and programming their robots, ten teams—five from junior high school and five from high school—had the opportunity to put them to the test in front of a jury made up of professionals. 'Getting involved in this contest is a glimpse into the life of a remote handling engineer,' says engineer Jean-Pierre Friconneau, who works in remote handling at ITER. Alain Bécoulet, IRFM director, agrees: 'The students tackled the kind of complex problem that we deal with every day of our professional lives in laboratory research.'' After a succession of time trials against the backdrop of cheers from some teams and sighs from others, students from the Gignac-la-Nerthe high school captured the victory with a robot called 'ITERmine premier'' (ITER the First). A question of luck? Or rather a result of the hundreds of hours the students in engineering science had spent to bring their idea to fruition ... The junior high students had a tougher time, with all teams facing last-minute problems and re-programming before the junior high school from the village of Pélissanne carried the contest. Once again, the competition reflected reality. ''A remote handling engineer faces this kind of problem on a regular basis. You have a design that might work in your laboratory, but that requires reprogramming when it's in situation,'' highlights Delphine Keller from IRFM. The successful third edition of the ITER Robots contest ended with a round of applause for all the engineers-in-the-making who participated in the contest. And who knows, see you soon in ITER!

Power to the plasma

To provide initial heating for fusion reactions, a combination of high-powered heating systems will be installed for the international ITER Tokamak, including radio frequency (RF) transmission lines that will deliver 20 million watts of power to the plasma. For perspective, that's about 400 times more power than a large radio station uses for transmission. The US ITER ion cyclotron team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has achieved high RF power levels in the laboratory and is working to finalize the design of the transmission lines and matching systems. Once the plasma is heated to full power, ITER will produce a self-heated plasma—which will be the first burning plasma created on Earth. "We're trying to deliver every bit of power through our transmission lines that we said we would. They are designed to reliably carry double the initially available power, in order to accommodate a possible future power upgrade; we really need to deliver," said Rick Goulding, who leads US ITER's ion cyclotron heating (ICH) research and development program and is a physicist with ORNL's Plasma Technology and Applications Group in the Fusion Materials for Nuclear Systems Division. US ITER developed a multi-function high power test stand at ORNL to confirm transmission line design and test specific components. Recent accomplishments include successful steady state high-voltage tests of candidate transmission lines at 35 kV, with 40 kV transient currents. The team also successfully tested cooling the inner conductors of the line with circulating nitrogen at 3 atmospheres of pressure. Gas flowing between the conductors transfers heat from the internal inner conductor to the water-cooled outer conductor. The technique, chosen for use on ITER, keeps inner conductor temperatures well below the 150 degree Celsius operating limit. The coaxial transmission line is basically a copper pipe inside an aluminum pipe, with inner and outer conductors separated by quartz insulators. Because of the high power requirements, the diameter of the ITER transmission lines is exceptionally large—about 12 inches—compared with low power transmission lines, such as those used for cable television transmission. "Every component must have both a mechanical and an RF assessment," said Mike McCarthy, senior project engineer for the ICH team. To provide high RF power levels to ITER's plasma, the system needs to limit power losses, avoid electrical breakdowns and be sufficiently cooled. In addition to testing performance, the ICH team, which includes staff from both ORNL and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, needs to plan for how the transmission lines will be assembled in the ITER facility. To simplify assembly, the team developed a conductor support design that uses quartz spokes instead of a solid quartz disk. "The advantage of the spoke design is that it can be pre-assembled before being joined to neighboring sections. The design also does not impede the flow of gas, so less pumping power would be required, and the spokes will absorb less RF power, leading to improved efficiency," Goulding said. "Given the amount of assembly required for the transmission lines and that the assembly involves a worker elevated on a lift, we need to make our designs simple and sturdy. You have to think about the person in the field. Reliability, accessibility, maintainability and inspectability are core principles for us," McCarthy said. Upcoming testing will assess more complicated devices, such as switches and power splitters. In addition to the resonant line, which creates a standing wave to achieve the highest possible voltage, a resonant ring has been built that distributes power more evenly along the test line—closely mimicking the heating that occurs in the bulk of the ITER transmission line. The resonant ring can be routinely operated at 6 megawatts for an hour; 17 long-pulse tests have been completed on the ring since 2012. As different prototype components are assessed, the ICH team has refined the test stand and its software controls to enable efficient, consistent, accurate testing. "The transmission lines are expected to be the highest reliability components in the ion cyclotron system," Goulding said. Once the transmission lines are installed in the ITER facility, they will operate for many years. The ITER transmission line design includes a tuning and matching system to minimize impedance discrepancies between sources and loads. The system also protects components from power reflected off the plasma by directing reflected power to a load that can absorb it. The ITER Tokamak ultimately will rely on three external heating systems to bring the plasma up to full power: ion cyclotron heating, electron cyclotron heating and neutral beam heating. The US is responsible for both the ion and electron cyclotron heating system transmission lines. For the ion cyclotron system, the European Union will provide two antennas, while India is responsible for the RF power sources and high voltage supplies. US participation in ITER is sponsored by the Department of Energy Office of Science and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, with contributions by partner labs Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory.


Back to the future: are we about to crack fusion energy?

Can we harness the energy of an earth-bound sun? It's a question that has obsessed and perplexed scientists for more than half a century. According to Professor Steve Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and chief executive of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, it remains one of the "great quests" in science. For the uninitiated, it's the kind of big idea that makes your head spin: we're talking about mimicking the process that powers the stars, heating hydrogen atoms to temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees celsius — the point at which they fuse into heavier helium atoms — and releasing energy in the process. The creation of a self-sustaining reaction here on Earth would be a revolutionary moment for humanity. It would mean we'd have a near-limitless source of energy that is clean, safe and cheap. The fuel used for fusion (two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium) is so abundant it will effectively never run out; one kilogram of it provides the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel. And while some fusion reactor components would become mildly radioactive over time, they should be safe to recycle or dispose of conventionally within 100 years, according to fusion experts. Read the whole article on The Guardian website.

Tokamak tales from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

Want to know what it's like to work in fusion? In a new blog from the Culhan Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), graduate physicists and engineers lift the lid on life at Culham. Tokamak Tales aims to show the world what the graduates get up to. What they do day-to-day, what exciting projects they are working on, and their experiences as a CCFE graduate. Editor Ailsa Sparkes says: "The aim is to have an informal platform which is interesting to read for the public and for our staff. We are going to show you what it's like to work at a major lab and what progress we're making with fusion energy — we hope to both amuse and enlighten you! We're looking forward to getting comments and questions, and we'd also welcome contributions from other fusion researchers."

Northern lights' physics could aid in nuclear fusion

​The aurora is more than just a breathtaking display of light. It may also hold the secret of a magnetic phenomenon related to the nuclear fusion powering the sun. This secret could even help create nuclear fusion in the lab, says a team of researchers. [...] Now a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton University hopes that the performance of fusion experiments can be improved by investigating of the dynamics of magnetic fields observed during the aurora. Read more on LiveScience website.

Pushing negative ion beam technology to the extreme

​The newly commissioned ELISE test facility has begun operation at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Science (IPP) in Garching, Germany. Funded by the European Domestic Agency as a voluntary European contribution to the neutral beam program, ELISE (Extraction from a Large Ion Source Experiment) is the first large radio-frequency-driven negative ion source in the world, approximately half the size of the source that will be installed at ITER for the neutral beam injectors. In this latest video from the European Domestic Agency, the scientists and engineers responsible for operating ELISE talk about plans for the test bed, the challenges of achieving ITER performance parameters, and the importance of research carried out within the frame of the experiment for the ITER neutral beam development program. Visit the European Domestic Agency website to watch the video.

Wendelstein 7-X ready to switch on

​On 20 May, the world will witness a welcome staging post in the quest to develop nuclear fusion, when Germany's Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics switches on the Wendelstein 7-X, an earth-bound machine built to mimic the way in which stars generate energy. The project is part of the German national fusion research program but has received significant support at nearly 30 percent of the total cost from the EU's Euratom program. Despite its schedule slipping eight years, from 2006 to 2014, and the cost doubling from an original EUR 500 million to more than EUR 1 billion, the anticipation among fusion scientists is palpable. Eventually, it is hoped, the Wendelstein 7-X will provide a baseline for a future commercial power plant that like the sun and the stars derives energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei. Read more on the Science-Business website.

From ITER back to Europe

​The European Commission has appointed Maria de Aires Soares as the Head of its Representation in Portugal. She will take up office on 16 May 2014. Mrs Soares brings to her new role proven leadership and management skills, an extensive knowledge and experience of the European institutions, a track-record of working with a variety of stakeholders and a strong background in political analysis and communicating policy. Since November 2011 Mrs Soares has (as a Commission official seconded in the interest of the service) been the Head of the Finance and Budget Division at the ITER Organization in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, France. Prior to this appointment she served as Minister-Counselor, Head of the Research, Technology, Innovation and Education Section at the Delegation of the European Union to the United States in Washington DC. Mrs Soares joined the European Commission in 1989 in the Directorate General for Research and Innovation, holding different management positions in areas ranging from administration and finance to researchers' mobility and energy. In particular she promoted and developed an energy cooperation strategy between the European Union and Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US. She was admitted to the Lisbon Bar in 1980 and started her professional career at a law firm in Lisbon. Immediately before joining the European Commission she held a senior position in the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. She is a Law graduate from the University of Lisbon and holds a Ph. D. in Law from the University of Montpellier.


Preventing solar flare-like events in fusion reactors (US ITER)


Europe continues fusion reactor funding

Les robots électrisent le concours d'Iter