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ITER, the Fusion Device and the Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre

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November 28, 2006

ITER, the Fusion Device and the Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre

ITER, the Fusion Device and the Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre

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November 29, 2006 Every country should have one – it’s the US$10 Billion ITER Fusion Test Reactor currently being constructed in the South of France to provide the know-how to subsequently build the first electricity-generating power station based on magnetic confinement of high temperature plasma - in other words, to capture and use the power of the sun on earth for peaceful purposes. ITER is something to be proud of – it is a joint international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion as a source of power for mankind – ample power would significantly lessen the chance of war. The partners in the project are the European Union (represented by EURATOM), Japan, China, India, South Korea, the Russian Federation and America. On earth, the aim is to harness this energy source to produce electricity in a safe and environmentally benign way, with abundant fuel resources, to meet the needs of a growing world population. Ministers from the ITER parties came together recently to sign the agreement to establish the organization and it’s very likely these pictures will be in school text books a thousand years from now . The signature ceremony took place at the Elysée Palace in Paris and was hosted by the President Jacques Chirac and by the President of the European Commission, M. Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. ITER Director General Nominee Kaname Ikeda said the meeting, the ITER Organization would now embark on “its mission, as a worldwide international cooperation, to help create a new source of energy for humankind”. We’re not sure if we’re more excited about the FUSION device or the Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre (ROViR) development centre where the test equipment is located. ROViR develops industrial design and control systems, tapping the expertise of VTT and TUT's hydraulics and automation department. Remote operation and virtual technologies play a central role in the maintenance of the ITER reactor, but they also possess huge application potential for industry.

The ITER experiment (ITER means "the way" in Latin) is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful purposes. Following on from today's largest fusion experiments worldwide, ITER aims to provide the know-how to build subsequently the first electricity-generating power station based on magnetic confinement of high temperature plasma - in other words, to capture and use the power of the sun on earth.

ITER will be constructed in Cadarache, in the South of France. ITER will test all the main new features needed for that device - high-temperature-tolerant components, large-scale reliable superconducting magnets, fuel-breeding blankets using high temperature coolants suitable for efficient electricity generation, and safe remote handling and disposal of all irradiated components. ITER's operating conditions are close to those that will be experienced in a power reactor, and will show how they can be optimised, and how hardware design margins can be reduced to increase efficiency and control cost.

ITER began in 1985 as a collaboration between the then Soviet Union, the USA, Europe (through EURATOM) and Japan. Conceptual and engineering design phases led to an acceptable detailed design in 2001, underpinned by $650M worth of research and development by the "ITER Parties" to establish its practical feasibility. These (with the Russian Federation replacing the Soviet Union and with the USA opting out of the project between 1999 and 2003) have been since joined in negotiations on the future construction, operation and decommissioning of ITER by Canada (who terminated their participation at the end of 2003), the People's Republic of China (joined in early 2003), the Republic of Korea (joined in mid-2003), and India (joined at the end of 2005). The current seven Parties are now agreeing to construct ITER.

ITER is expected to cost ~$10 billion over its complete life. The decision on the site for ITER allows the project to move on to its construction phase. The Director-General of the project, Kaname Ikeda, was nominated at the end of 2005, and his Deputy, Norbert Holtkamp, in April 2006. It has been agreed how the costs and procurements will be shared.

The European testing centre for the maintenance systems of the ITER fusion test reactor established at VTT in Tampere, Finland, is proceeding. The construction work on the centre has already begun and is progressing well. The international researcher exchange was also launched at the beginning of November in order to train experts for the testing centre.

The construction of the steel structures of the testing centre for ITER's maintenance systems is currently in progress; the installation work on the robotics and control systems will begin next spring. The basic structures in Tampere will be supplied by TP-Konepajat, located in Tampere, which won the demanding international competitive tendering process. The other parties come from Spain and Luxembourg.

The training of the experts elected for the ITER and fusion project began in November. Two Finnish, two British and two French researchers participate in the training. The target organisations where the researchers rotate are CEA in France, Oxford Technologies in the U.K. and Tampere University of Technology (TUT) and VTT in Finland.

The massive test equipment for the ITER fusion power plant is located in VTT and TUT's international ROViR development centre. ROViR (Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre) is a centre developing industrial design and control systems, based on combining the solid expertise of VTT and TUT's hydraulics and automation department.

Remote operation and virtual technologies play a central role in the maintenance of the ITER reactor, but they possess huge application potential for the industry as well. The aim is to use the ROViR centre to introduce the research results related to ITER research, the largest research project in the world, for use by companies to improve their productivity and competitiveness.

The agreement on the construction of the ITER fusion test plant was signed in Paris on 21 November. Fusion energy is a promising alternative especially for the production of basic power. The advantages of fusion are practically limitless fuel resources, safety, and environmental and climate friendliness.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is the biggest contract research organisation in Northern Europe. VTT provides high-end technology solutions and innovation services for its clients, private companies, institutions and the public sector. VTT is heavily involved in many EU projects and in national and international innovation networks.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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