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Scientists take next step in developing a ‘Second Sun’

21 May 2019

North Eastern-based engineers working with ITER progressing nuclear fusion to unprecedented levels

The world’s largest fusion machine / device, ITER, located in the south of France is being designed with help from Assystem’s engineers in Sunderland.

As electricity demand increases, the need for a sustainable zero carbon energy source is urgent which is why nations like China, Europe, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA are collaborating to explore the potential of fusion energy. Together they represent half of the world’s population and 80% of the global GDP. The UK involvement is channelled through the EU organisation, Fusion for Energy (F4E), managing Europe’s contribution to ITER.

Fusion is the process that powers the sun. Scientists believe that if they replicate the same reaction on Earth it will provide an unlimited source of energy to the world.

In Sunderland a small team has been working on designing robotic equipment that can safely remove irradiated components and dust from the heart of the machine.

It is known as remote handling and it is a bespoke and highly complex system of tooling that will be key to the maintenance of the machine when it is time to replace components exposed to extremely high temperatures in the range of 250°C. In fact, the hot gas resulting from the fusion reaction, known as plasma, is expected to reach 150,000,000°C, ten times the temperature in core of the sun.

In Sunderland, Fanny Fouin, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Assystem said: “In our offices overlooking the Wear, our focus is on creating robotic equipment that can operate in such harsh environment e.g. high temperatures and very high level of radiation in the world’s largest fusion experiment!”

“ITER will be the world’s biggest experiment on the path to fusion energy and it will help us to develop fusion reactors putting an end to our excessive reliance on fossil fuels.”

Assystem, the third largest nuclear engineering firm in the world, which has five offices in the UK employing hundreds of staff with over 40 being based in their Sunderland office. 35 countries are involved in the design and build of the first of a kind experiment. The first big ITER tests are planned for 2025. Specialists predict that that it will take 30-40 years to see fusion on the commercial scale.

As well as designing the robotic equipment, Assystem is responsible for the construction management at ITER, overseeing the installation of ITER components from all over the world. In order to deal with technical and organisational complexities of the ITER project, Assystem has set up a consortium, to facilitate:

Studies, including nuclear safety studies
Contract management
Project management
Construction preparation
Site co-ordination
Works supervision
Completion activities

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