Committee of MPs tells nuclear fusion scientists predicting commercial viability of fusion of being in ‘cloud cuckoo land
Scientists and engineers from the nuclear fusion research community have rallied against an attack from a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that accused them of being in “cloud cuckoo land”.
Speaking at a meeting at the House of Lords earlier this week, Lord Peston slammed Professor Steven Cowley, head of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, for asserting that fusion research would produce “a commercially sustainable outcome” within the next 40 to 80 years.
He said: “You’re talking about cloud cuckoo land. I’m talking to all of you. What you’ve done is invent a marvellous system, where all the scientists in this area waste an enormous amount of public money worldwide, on a self-sustaining system with no likely outcome worth anything.”
“It’s not even obvious that fission plants are commercially viable. You are talking about things that are not even a million miles close to being built. “
The Lords Science and Technology Committee has been tasked with investigating the value of public funding for nuclear fusion research, pegged at £174.7 million this year. The UK is also contributing to the development and construction of the next generation of fusion tokomak, Iter, in the south of France. Iter is budgeted to cost a total of at least £13 billion and is planned to be completed by 2021.
Cowley, who is also the chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and a Professor of Physics at Imperial College London, admitted that if a more sustainable source of electricity were invented by 2040, research for nuclear fusion energy would be redundant.
He said: “If we were not making progress, we should not invest in fusion. At the moment we have transitional decarbonising technologies – nuclear fission and carbon capture and storage. By the end of the century we will need technologies to replace them.”
Nuclear fusion research represents 14% of the Research Council’s total spend on energy related research. Dr Sharon Ellis, deputy director of Research Councils UK, which is responsible for investing public money in research to advance knowledge and generate new ideas, said: “Without particular evidence, there is no reason to stop funding fusion research. As it stands, we are getting advances in material and robotics and backwards investment. The balance sheet is positive.”
Dr David Kingham, chief executive of Tokomak Energy, which is developing smaller, 100MW modular tokomaks that use high-temperature superconducting magnets, said: “Tokomaks are the way forward but there needs to be more diversity in the approach. The European roadmap is too linear – innovation doesn’t work like that. There is a risk that slow progress at Iter will delay progress as a whole.”
The first of some 250 “exceptional loads” has been delivered to the construction site of the ITER fusion reactor project at Cadarache in southern France. The high-voltage transformer was manufactured in South Korea.
The transformer begins its voyage by barge from Fos-sur-Mer across the Gulf of Fos, through the Canal de Caronte, and finally across the inland sea of Etang de Berre (Image: ITER)
Although a number of smaller components for the project’s electrical network have been delivered to the construction site since last September, the delivery of the 87-tonne transformer marks the first to be classified as a “highly exceptional load”. Such loads require travel by night on the specially adapted route – the so-called Iter Itinerary – between the Mediterranean Sea and the Iter site.
The transformer was procured by the US Domestic Agency for Iter and manufactured in Korea by Hyundai Heavy Industry. It is part of the USA’s 75% contribution to the project’s steady state electrical network. Three other identical transformers will be delivered to Iter over the coming months.
The component left Hyundai Heavy Industry’s plant in Ulsan, Korea on 16 November 2014 and, following a month-long sea voyage, reached Marseille’s industrial harbour, Fos-sur-Mer. After being placed in temporary storage, the transformer was loaded on to a trailer on 12 January and transported by barge across the inland sea Etang de Berre. It was then transported along the 104 km (65 mile) road route to Cadarache, reaching the Iter site on 14 January.
The component arrives at the Iter site by road (Image: ITER)
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the arrival of the first exceptional load, ITER Organization director general Osamu Motojima said, “Today’s operation will need to be replicated some 250 times before we can complete the assembly of the Iter Tokamak. And some of the components will be much larger, heavier and more difficult to handle than the one that was delivered today.”
The transformer – which will be connected to the 400 kV switchyard and reduce the voltage to 22 kV to power the Iter project’s plant systems – has been moved to a storage area prior to installation.
The heaviest convoy that will travel along the Iter Itinerary will weigh 800 tonnes (including the transport vehicle), and loads can be up to be 10.4 metres high, the longest 33 metres, and the widest 9 metres.
The Iter project aims to take nuclear fusion research to a new level with the largest ever Tokamak unit, which should be capable of sustaining plasmas that produce 500 MWt for as long as seven minutes. The EU is funding half of the cost while the remainder comes in equal parts from six other partners: China, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea and the USA. The facility is expected to reach full operation in 2027.
Source: World Nuclear News
Assystem present at the first international nuclear exhibition
From the 14th to 16th October 2014, the first edition of the World Nuclear Exhibition (WNE) will take place at the Bourget. This biennial convention is dedicated to French and international players within the nuclear industry. Assystem will be present at the exhibition with an exhibitor space on booth E 46.
14th of October
From 11am to 1pm : Dominique Louis, Assystem’s President Director General will participate in the round table presided by Luc Oursel, President of Areva, to discuss the role of technology in the nuclear sector entitled « Safe, Proven Technologies for Reactors and Fuel Cycle ».
From 3pm to 4pm: Assystem’s experts will lead a workshop conference on the theme «The Importance of PMC in Nuclear New Build Programs: an Engineering Consultancy Perspective.
15th of October
Meet our experts on our stand for a business day. Take this opportunity to discover our offers within the nuclear domain:
- Project Management
- Engineering Design
- EPCm (Engineering, Procurement, Construction Management)
- Systems Integration
16th of October
It will be an open day for nuclear students who will be able to meet our experts and recruiters. The latest will present the range of tasks Assystem’s engineers are leading on the most advanced nuclear projects: from the very upstream in the evolution of the nuclear program with estimation and optimization studies of the investments, conceptualization and coordination, to the downstream with the operations, construction, commissioning, maintenance and decommissioning of the installations.
On this same day, Assystem will also highlight its internal training institute ANI (Assystem Nuclear Institute) in which Assystem’s experts have trained generations of nuclear engineers. The institute was founded in 2008 and celebrates its 5th year anniversary during the exhibition.
Pres. Barroso: “EU is proud to have believed in ITER”
He was accompanied by French Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research Geneviève Fioraso.
The European President and the French Minister’s visit came at a crucial moment in the worksite progress as concrete pouring operations had just begun in the central part of the Tokamak Complex.
Ms Fioraso shared this vision: “Thanks to this project,” she said, “Europe is a very young and very ambitious continent.”
Assystem and F4E: a new step for the ITER Nuclear Fusion project
Assystem and its partners to deliver high tech remote handling system for ITER divertor
Paris, 4 June, 2014 – Assystem, a leading innovation and engineering consultancy, has signed a multimillion contract with Fusion for Energy (F4E) – the EU organisation responsible for Europe’s contribution to ITER. This contract, expected to run up to seven years, focuses on the ITER Divertor Remote Handling system. It confirms Assystem’s position as a key engineering partner within the ITER project, the biggest international energy project which is under construction in Cadarache, in the South of France.
The Divertor is a key component of the ITER machine. Located at the bottom of the vacuum vessel, its function is to extract impurities from the plasma, in effect acting like a giant exhaust system. The Divertor Remote Handling systems include the equipment required to safely and reliably position as well as extract each of the 54 removable cassettes within the Divertor. Remote handling is widely used in space exploration missions, underwater or ground operations. The system brings together high tech robotics, advanced technological tools, powerful computers and virtual reality platforms. A high level of intuition and intelligence are inbuilt within the system which is handled by a human operator with extreme dexterity because of the degree of millimetric precision that is required.
Since 2009, Assystem has been heavily involved in the concept design phase of the various types of remote handling equipment that will be required to install, maintain, and recover the diverse components of the ITER Tokamak during its operational life.
A wealth of expertise in fusion energy
For Assystem, this contract confirms the Group’s dedication and commitment to the international fusion energy project. It also demonstrates the company’s leading edge competencies in nuclear engineering, and its capacity to bring together the best-in class skills and partners for a specific project. Assystem and its partners – Culham Centre Fusion for Energy (CCFE), Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD), Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) and Tampere University of Technology (TUT) – have successfully collaborated to offer a wealth of expert fusion energy knowledge that will drive innovation and meet the uniquely challenging requirements of the ITER project.
The Assystem led team brings a distinctive combination of skills and experience which provides F4E access to the extensive nuclear remote handling capability available from within Assystem. CCFE’s substantial fusion energy experience and expertise includes operating the largest Toroidial Fusion reactor in the world. VTT/TUT have extensive research & development experience of the ITER Divertor Remote Handling systems and equipment. The experienced engineering team is perfectly complemented with SMD’s bespoke large scale remote handling manufacturing capability.
The assembled team provides a winning combination of comprehensive technical understanding with world-class innovative manufacturing capability. As leader, Assystem is fully committed to the successful delivery of the challenging requirements of the ITER machine Divertor Remote Handling programme.
Commenting on the award, Peter Higton, Assystem’s Energy & Infrastructure Managing Director for the UK, who has led the team effort, said: “We are very pleased to have been selected for this prestigious project. We have an established offering in fusion energy and this award is recognition that our capabilities and reputation for delivering high standards of innovative engineering, quality and safety are valued by our customers. We look forward to working with F4E and our partners to deliver these remote handling high tech components.”
F4E Director, Professor Henrik Bindslev, explained that “this contract is a turning point for ITER’s remote handling system because it will lead us to production mode. We have managed to bring together industry, fusion laboratories, SMEs and research centres under one contract that will unleash their potential and help them advance further in their domain”.
Assystem has been working with F4E for the ITER project since a first contract for nuclear safety engineering in 2005. In April 2010, the Assystem-led consortium, Engage, was awarded the Architect Engineer contract following an international tender. The Group also supports ITER for the design of the machine and the preparation of the assembly phase.
Assystem is an international Engineering and Innovation Consultancy. As a key participant in the industry for more than 45 years, Assystem supports its customers in developing their products and managing their capital expenditure throughout the product life cycle. Assystem employs more than 11,000 people worldwide and reported €871 million in revenue in 2013. A leading European independent nuclear engineering specialist for 45 years, Assystem generates 20% of the Group’s total revenue in nuclear and employs 1,500 experts.
The Company is listed on NYSE Euronext Paris.
For more information: www.assystem.com
Follow Assystem on Twitter: @anewpath2growth
Fusion for Energy (F4E) is the European Union’s organisation for Europe’s contribution to ITER.
One of the main tasks of F4E is to work together with European industry, SMEs and research organisations to develop and provide a wide range of high technology components together with engineering, maintenance and support services for the ITER project. F4E supports fusion R&D initiatives through the Broader Approach Agreement signed with Japan and prepares for the construction of demonstration fusion reactors (DEMO).
F4E was created by a decision of the Council of the European Union as an independent legal entity and was established in April 2007 for a period of 35 years.
Its offices are in Barcelona, Spain.
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Toshiba Wins a Contract for ITER’s Superconducting Coils
Toshiba Corporation (Tokyo: 6502) today announced that it has concluded a contract with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) for the manufacture of toroidal field coils for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being constructed in Cadarache, France. Keihin Product Operations and Toshiba IHI Power Systems Corporation will begin manufacturing the coils the end of this month. The ITER facility will have a total of 18 coils and initiate plasma experiments in 2020.
Toshiba has been commissioned to manufacture four toroidal field coils and six containers to hold the coils, and will start deliveries in 2017. Toroidal field coils are used to produce strong magnetic fields that confine the high-temperature plasma necessary for nuclear fusion to occur.
The ITER project aims to demonstrate nuclear fusion as a viable future energy source. The project is funded and run by seven member entities: Japan, the European Union, the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and India. Thermonuclear fusion occurs in high temperature deuterium-tritium plasma at the order of 100 million degrees Centigrade, and the heat produced by the fusion reaction is used to generate electricity. Because the source of nuclear fusion fuel is abundant in nature, thermonuclear fusion, once proven, is expected to become a perpetual source of energy.
Toshiba has long been involved in the research and development of nuclear fusion technology, participating in design activities and supply of equipment. Toshiba has manufactured equipment, such as coils and power supply systems, for the JAEA Naka Fusion Institute’s JT-60, the National Institute of Fusion Science’s Large Helical Device and for other institutes in Japan and overseas. In March 2014, Toshiba delivered sectors of the vacuum vessel for JT-60SA, a successor to JT-60. Toshiba will continue to leverage its technologies to contribute to the research and development of leading-edge technologies.
Images of ITER and toroidal field coils
UK centre to shoot for nuclear fusion record
Prof Steve Crowley told the BBC a go-ahead to run Jet at maximum power would allow scientists to try for the record by the end of the decade.
This could bring Jet up to the coveted goal of “breakeven” where fusion yields as much energy as it consumes.
Fusion is markedly different from current nuclear power, which operates through splitting atoms – fission – rather than squashing them together as occurs in fusion.
“We’re hoping to repeat our world record shots and extend them,” Prof Crowley told BBC News.
“Our world record was from 1997, we think we can improve on it quite considerably and get some really spectacular results. We’re winding up to that and by the end of the decade we’ll be doing it.”
Joint European Torus (Jet)
- Initiated as part of European programme to explore nuclear fusion
- Opened in Culham, Oxfordshire, in April 1984 by the Queen
- Achieved world record energy gain factor in 1997
- Served as prototype for multi-bn-euro Iter project due to come online in the 2020s
- Will conduct dress rehearsals for Iter over next five years of operation
Despite its history spanning some five decades, scientists hoping to harness fusion have faced many hurdles. But it remains an attractive prospect because it can yield a near limitless supply of clean energy.
The fusion community hopes their luck could change when the multi-bn-euro Iter fusion experiment comes online in Cadarache, in the south of France, in the 2020s. And officials from Jet, based at Culham, Oxfordshire, are now in the process of signing a contract that will keep the facility running for another five years.
Jet (Joint European Torus) was the prototype for Iter and over its extended lifetime will effectively carry out a dress rehearsal for that much bigger reactor, which will aim to demonstrate the scientific viability of fusion power at scale.
During Jet’s extended run, scientists will again begin using the deuterium-tritium fuel mix needed for maximum fusion power. Until recently, scientists had been running the experiment using deuterium fuel only. While running the experiment in this mode allows scientists to gather valuable scientific knowledge, both deuterium and tritium will be needed to exceed the record set by the Oxfordshire facility 17 years ago.
“Jet is the only machine in the world that can handle that fuel. When you put tritium in, it reacts like crazy,” said Prof Crowley.
Jet uses the same approach to fusion as Iter. This is known as magnetic confinement fusion (MCF), in which electrically charged gas called plasma is heated to millions of degrees inside a sealed tube called a “tokamak”.
- Fusion is the process that powers the stars, including the Sun
- One litre (1.75 pints) of water contains enough deuterium, when fused with tritium, to produce the equivalent energy of 500 litres of petrol
- A 1,500MW fusion power station would consume about 600g (1lb 5oz) of tritium and 400g of deuterium a day
- The first large-scale use of fusion was by the US military with the detonation of Ivy Mike, a hydrogen bomb, on 1 November 1952
- Iter and Jet’s designs involve a tokamak, the Russian word for a ring-shaped magnetic chamber
- Iter’s magnetic field is designed to contain 100-million-C plasma, the temperature required for the fusion process
- The US, while supporting Iter as a partner, is also funding the National Ignition Facility, which uses lasers to heat and compress hydrogen to the point of fusion
- South Korea, another Iter partner, is investing $941m in a fusion technology demonstrator, K-DEMO, which could be the first to generate grid power
- Critics object to further research into nuclear power and question the likely costs of commercial operations
The temperature inside Jet during one of its full power shots can soar to a scorching 200 million C. That’s more than 10 times the temperature at the centre of the Sun – estimated to be about 15 million C.
In 1997, scientists pushed 24MW of energy into Jet and managed to get 16MW out – a fusion energy gain of about 0.7. A fusion energy gain factor (known as Q) of greater than one is required to achieve “breakeven”, where the amount of energy produced equals the amount of energy consumed.
However, higher gain factors are required to achieve self-sustaining fusion, where the reactions continue without any external input of energy.
“We hope in the next runs of Jet that we’ll approach a gain of one. But that’s no good for energy production – you need a gain of 10, 20, 30 – much more energy coming than you put in. That’s what Iter will do,” said Prof Crowley.
Jet was the result of a European plan for fusion power conceived in the 1970s. Recently, the machine has undergone a series of upgrades to bring components in line with those planned for Iter. In coming years, it will shed light on some of the challenges for making fusion a success.
“The plasma is spewing out tank shells of neutron particles. The neutrons that come out of fusion are 10 times more energetic than those coming out of nuclear fission,” said Prof Crowley.
“When they slam into the walls [of the tokamak] they rearrange the atoms in those walls. The question is can we have a material that doesn’t mind having its atoms rearranged 10 times a year?”
In magnetic confinement experiments the plasma can become unstable, causing fusion to break down. However, improving performance is partly a matter of scale – and as Iter is likely to demonstrate – bigger really is better, as far as fusion is concerned.
In November 2013, the European Parliament formally endorsed the European Commission’s 80bn-euro Horizon 20-20 research budget. This encompasses funds of about 300m euros to keep Jet running. Officials are currently finalising details of the settlement, with a view to signing the contract soon.
The National Ignition Facility in the US recently passed a fusion milestone of its own. NIF takes a different approach to fusion from that taken by Jet and Iter, concentrating laser energy on a hydrogen fuel pellet to initiate fusion.
During a run of the experiment in September 2013, the small amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – a first at any fusion facility.
Source: BBC News