23 Sep 2019 to 30 Sep 2019
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Software | ITER's healthy reliance on open source
A long-time user of open source, ITER does not stand alone—far from it. Virtually all Big Science projects in the world are big users of public domain software. Some have even decided recently to 'up the ante' and move still further away from commercial products. Why do Big Science projects use open source? Three of the biggest reasons are: To have complete control over the software: For any software that controls essential equipment, an organization needs to have access to every bit of source code that goes into the executable software. This allows the organization to completely debug the system—and it also minimizes the possibility of introducing malicious code that can't be easily spotted. To guarantee availability of the software over the project lifetime: The lifetimes of Big Science projects are much longer than the lifetimes of most commercially sold software. Five years from now, some of the products sold today will be obsolete, or dramatically different. With access to all the source code, researchers can use open source software as long as they want. To eliminate the potential for runaway licensing costs: When an organization relies on commercial products, vendor lock-in can become a problem. The vendor may raise the price of the software or introduce configurations that change the pricing structure at the expense of the buyer. A case in point is CERN. Microsoft recently changed software-licensing conditions, increasing software expenses for the research organization. In response, CERN began its 'Microsoft Alternatives' project, which aims to replace commercial software with open source as much as possible. Open source is still not appropriate in all cases But open source is not completely free either. The biggest cost is in keeping the in-house expertise needed to maintain and administer the software. For important projects, a popular approach is to hire one of the core developers of the system in question—exactly the approach ITER took when it hired Ralph Lange, a key EPICS developer. 'EPICS, which stands for Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System, is a set of software tools that can be used to build control systems for use on any scale, from very small experiments to machines as big as ITER,' says Lange. 'Because it is open source, EPICS is developed by a lot of very good software engineers from around the world. It is widely tested, debugged and validated. We use it as the basis for CODAC at ITER.' 'One reason open source is essential for our control system has to do with cyber security,' says Lange. 'You have to be able to say that you compile everything from source code to rule out the introduction of malicious code in modules for which we have no visibility. This is a big reason 100 percent of the software running on the machine will be compiled from source.' Another open source platform ITER uses is TensorFlow. Developed by Google for machine learning, TensorFlow is designed to help both researchers and developers. Developers use it to build and deploy applications based on machine learning; researchers use it to build and train machine learning models and neural networks for experimentation. 'We use TensorFlow to make sophisticated physics models run ten million times faster,' says Simon Pinches, the scientist responsible for the integrated modelling program at ITER. 'You take one of the models and run it many times over some domain, using all the possible numbers you think it will have to observe. Then you apply the input and output data to TensorFlow, which develops the neural network that produces the same results super fast.' A third important piece of open source software ITER uses is Git, the most widely used source code management tool today. Because so many different people contribute to the software used by ITER, a solid source code management tool is essential. 'Git is a really significant piece of software for us,' says Pinches. 'But it's often overlooked because it's very low down in the chain.' EPICS, TensorFlow and Git are not the only open source platforms used by ITER. Linux is another public domain platform used at ITER. Moreover, almost all the software run on the Linux systems is open source. 'Open source tends to be very good software,' says Pinches. 'Lots of people working on one product will develop a better product than a few people working on lots of separate products.' But open source cannot be used everywhere. For all its advantages, one area where open source is inappropriate is in cases where nuclear or personal safety certification is required. The certification processes are too expensive to be taken on by anybody other than software vendors that will sell the software to a number of organizations. For these cases, ITER relies on specialized software vendors that sell industrially certified or nuclear-certified solutions. So for example while the plasma control system uses open-source EPICS software, the machine protection and safety software within which the plasma control system operates is nuclear certified and not open source. Some good reasons to actively participate in the open source community Lange says there are two reasons large organizations that rely heavily on an open source platform hire key developers. 'First it ensures they have somebody to fix things; and second, it gives them somebody who can feed requirements to developers to make sure the code goes in the direction they need.' Helping steer EPICS in the right direction is one of the reasons ITER stays active in the open source community. In June 2019, ITER hosted a weeklong EPICS collaboration meeting, where users not only exchanged best practices, but also provided feedback to developers. About one hundred people from around the world attended the meeting. ITER will continue to use open source and influence the direction of relevant platforms. Even though the project is more on the user side than on the developer side, that could change one day. Big Science projects don't always remain just big users; they sometimes also become big contributors. After all, the World Wide Web was invented at CERN in the late1980s—and then in the early 1990s, CERN released the underlying software as open source.
Machine assembly | ITER Organization awards two major contracts
Two international consortia have been selected to carry out the thousands of complex lifting, positioning, joining, and inspection activities behind the assembly, over the next five years, of the ITER core machine. Following competitive global tender campaigns managed by ITER's Procurement & Contracts Division, two contracts for Tokamak machine assembly—TAC1 and TAC2—have been awarded and signed. Each contract covers well-defined and distinct machine assembly scope, purposefully minimizing the interfaces between providers. (Two contracts, instead of one, were decided by the ITER Organization in the interest of preserving peer competition and protecting the project from contractor default.) Common to both contracts is the broad range of experience and skills that is demanded in order to handle, install, and align large, heavy, sensitive, and high-value components (such as superconducting magnet structures) to within accuracies of millimetres; to carry out the precise fit-up for weldments and mechanical connections; and to ensure 100 percent leak-tightness for all vacuum components and connections. The TAC1 assembly contract—covering the cryostat and cryostat thermal shield; magnet feeders; the central solenoid, poloidal field and correction coil magnets; and cooling structures and instrumentation—has been awarded to the CNPE Consortium (China Nuclear Power Engineering; China Nuclear Industry 23 Construction Company Ltd.; Southwestern Institute of Physics; Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences ASIPP; and Framatome). The TAC2 assembly contract—covering the main vessel and ports, sector sub-assembly with toroidal field coils and vacuum vessel thermal shielding, and welding—has been awarded to the DYNAMIC SNC consortium (Ansaldo Nucleare; Endel Engie; Orys Group ORTEC; SIMIC; Ansaldo Energia; and Leading Metal Mechanic Solutions SL). The ITER Director-General, Bernard Bigot, signed the TAC1 contract today, Monday 30 September, in Beijing, China (see photo). TAC2 was signed on 29 July at ITER Headquarters by the Director-General and Francesco Maestri (CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare) from the DYNAMIC SNC consortium. 'These are major contracts for the ITER Organization,' according to Bernard Bigot. 'We have carefully prepared more than 1,200 engineering work packages for the mechanical installation of the ITER machine components and planned the assembly sequences; we are pleased we have found highly qualified and motivated partners for the execution of the work. We look forward to collaborating with world-renowned industry specialists for the on-time and to-specification assembly of one of the world's most challenging, promising and important scientific instruments.' Each contract is broken into phases, with detailed works assigned progressively to the contractors through ITER Organization work packages. The execution of assembly works will take place under the day-to-day management of ITER's Construction Management-as-Agent, MOMENTUM. An initial preparatory period, underway now, is dedicated to ensuring a common and thorough understanding of the technical and management requirements and constraints, the roles of different project actors, and the physical workspaces. The consortia are developing their on-site organization and teams, and creating detailed implementation processes and procedures. 'The competence and experience of the TAC contractors, and the ability, experience, and training of their engineering and construction teams will have a direct influence on the quality of work, the schedule, and ultimately the performance of the ITER machine,' stresses Christophe Dorschner, head of the Procurement & Contracts Division. 'The high quality of the interactions so far sends a strong positive signal about our expectations for performance over the coming years. Moreover, the international nature of the groups selected reflects the multinational collaboration that is at the core of the ITER Project.' Follow these links to read press releases from the CNPE (in Chinese) and DYNAMIC (in English and Italian) consortia.
Load tests | As heavy as a 747 and (almost) as airworthy
In the ITER Assembly Hall, two giant sector sub-assembly tools (SSAT) provided by Korea are tasked with preassembling some of the most massive components of the Tokamak. Over the past two months, functional tests under load were performed and completed on the first of the tools. With the transfer last week of the loads to tool #2, the same operations are about to be repeated. The SSAT tools will support 440-tonne sectors of the vacuum vessel in their centre as they are pre-assembled with two D-shaped toroidal field coils and thermal shield panels. In order to test the full range of the tool's functions, two 360-tonne dummy loads—representative of the weight, general shape and centre of gravity of a toroidal field coil—are lifted onto the tools' lateral structures, and positioned and aligned with utmost precision. The second 360-tonne load was transferred last Thursday 26 September to SSAT#2. The tool's particular configuration made the operation a delicate one: the temporary wall that separates the Assembly Hall from the Tokamak Building constrains the tool on its right side and prevents the full opening of the lateral wing. Because of this configuration, and also because the load had to be moved from one tool to the other, the lifting clearance was exceptionally tight—no more than 20 centimetres on each side of the test load structure. With approximately two dozen specialists involved and a large logistical team in the background, the operation, condensed here in a time-lapse video, took the better part of the day. With its frame now bearing the weight of two dummy loads, the second tool will be submitted to approximately one month of functional tests. Shortly before Christmas the loads will be removed and stored pending the assembly of the 'upending tool,' whose parts should arrive at ITER in October. Early next year, the upending tool should be ready for functional tests with the same dummy loads. Once 'upending' tests are complete, the two 360-tonne loads will have one final service to render—the testing of the Assembly Hall's double overhead crane once the crane hall over the Tokamak Building is completed and the crane rails are extended over the Tokamak pit.
In memoriam | What ITER owes President Chirac
ITER will remember former French President Jacques Chirac, who passed away on Thursday 26 September, as someone deeply involved in the ITER Project—the statesman who helped finalize the negotiations in June 2005 on the siting of the ITER installation and who hosted the signature of the ITER Agreement at the Elysée Palace in November of the following year. In 2005, President Chirac was three years into his second mandate and site negotiations between the ITER Members had been ongoing for close to 18 months: Europe proposed to host ITER in Cadarache, France, and Japan proposed Rokkasho-Mura in Aomori Prefecture, at the northern tip of the country's main island Honshū. It was the common understanding among ITER Members that the final decision would be a unanimous one and that there would be no 'winner' or 'loser' in the outcome. Unanimity, however, proved difficult to obtain. Among European decision makers, Jacques Chirac had a distinctive quality. He was, as a French daily wrote in his obituary, 'a Japanese in his heart and soul.' His passion for Japanese civilization, art forms, values, social and economic organization, and sumo wrestling, was a constant throughout his adult life. He was a frequent visitor to Japan and had many friends there. When he flew to Japan for a three-day official visit in March 2005—the 45th in his long public career—the ITER files were in his suitcase. Nothing ever filtered from his conversations with Prime Minister Koizumi. But gradually things changed. Proposals were made, discussed and eventually accepted. Europe would establish a special collaboration with Japan—the 'Broader Approach'—that both included and went beyond ITER; the commitments and benefits of 'Host' and 'Non-Host Member' were redefined in a 'win-win' approach. On 28 June 2005 in Moscow, the ITER Members reached the long-awaited unanimous decision: the ITER installation would be hosted on the site that Europe had officially proposed two years earlier. Two days after the Members' decision, the French President was in Cadarache—very short notice for those in charge of organizing his visit. To those who had been involved for years in ITER, he stressed the importance of the project 'for the future of the planet' and the unique nature of the international collaboration that would turn it into reality. A twenty-year long process, initiated at the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in 1985, was coming to an end and a formidable adventure was beginning: the implementation of the world's largest international scientific collaboration, whose aim is to open the way to a new, safe, clean and inexhaustible source of energy. In November 2006, under the gilded ceilings of the Elysée Palace, President Chirac presided over the signature of the ITER Agreement in the presence of high representatives of the seven ITER Members and praised the "unprecedented association of seven major partners [...] extending their hand to the future generations in the name of solidarity and responsibility."
Outreach | Researchers come out at midnight
Once a year, after night has fallen, 22,000 researchers from 28 European countries quit their laboratories to showcase the diversity of science and highlight the impact of research on our daily lives. A wide variety of science is always on display. This year, 3D food printing in Cork (Ireland), a robot show in Sibiu (Romania), virtual reality in Tampere (Finland), or fusion in Marseille were just a few of the multitude of projects proposed to 1.5 million visitors of all ages. On Friday 27 September, for the fourth time in Marseille, 100 French researchers gathered at the concert venue 'Dock des Suds.' In the total dark, 1,000+ visitors were invited to step into a huge discovery space that included a cinema, games, a 'speed search' space for interacting directly with researchers, and a 'capsule' where time had stopped in 2049. Greg de Temmerman was invited to spread the word about fusion in The Objects Lab. Three clues were exposed; from these the public had to conduct an investigation to discover Greg's daily job as a plasma physicist. Close to midnight, the mystery was solved in a public conference, as the main principles of fusion, the role of a tokamak, and ITER were revealed. European Researchers' Night is a program funded by the European Commission with the aim of engaging the public in celebrating the latest and most innovative research at local and international levels.
Image of the week | Chinese staff celebrates Republic's anniversary
On Monday 30 September, as the People's Republic of China was celebrating it 70th anniversary, Chinese ITER staff members, now totalling more than one hundred people, gathered in front of the worksite for a commemorative photo.
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