Thirty four and counting

It was foreseen by the authors of the ITER Agreement, signed in 2006 by the seven ITER Members.

As a research organization, the ITER Organization may conclude scientific collaboration agreements with other international organizations and institutions in the interest of promoting cooperation on fusion as an energy source.

For ITER, collaboration agreements keep ITER scientists and engineers in close touch with work going on in precise domains relating to fusion science and technology; for the laboratories and institutes, they are an opportunity to collaborate with the fusion community’s most advanced experiment.

Since January 2008, the ITER Organization has signed 34 scientific collaboration agreements and another 4 are currently in the preparatory stages. A common thread amongst these agreements is the training of young researchers.

„In the coming years, I envision more and more of this type of scientific exchange for the ITER Organization,” says the Director-General of the ITER Organization, Osamu Motojima. „I would like to open ITER’s door to younger people who will in fact take on a lot of the responsibility for fusion in the future. ITER will be the foremost research laboratory for magnetic fusion. Scientific collaboration agreements enrich the experience of our scientists, and provide training for the next generation of fusion scientists. The ITER Organization is a Centre of Excellence in this area.”

Under these scientific collaboration agreements, the ITER Organization and research institutes can cooperate in academic and scientific fields of mutual interest. „Some of the ideas for collaboration come from our scientists. We have compiled a database of agreements signed by the ITER Organization so that when we’re approached, we can inform them whether we already have an agreement with the institute in question,” says Anna Tyler of Legal Affairs.

Typically, the agreements cover the following type of collaboration: joint supervision of students working on Master’s or PhD theses; joint training and exchange of young scientists, engineers, interns and experts; joint research projects (particularly in plasma physics); and joint seminars.

Collaboration agreements have been signed with laboratories and institutes in Austria , China France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Monaco, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Japan,  and the UK—the most recent to date was signed just last month with the Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering at the University of Pisa (Italy).

David Campbell, head of ITER Plasma Operation Directorate, has been able to see the practical benefits of such exchanges. „Because we are aiming to develop ITER as centre of excellence in fusion research, such agreements allow us to develop scientific and technology exchanges with leading fusion research institutions around the world, building a network of fusion research activities which not only supports the preparations for ITER operation, but also contributes to the longer-term realization of the potential of fusion energy.

One of the more exciting aspects of the collboration agreements relates to the training activities and the opportunities they provide for younger researchers to participate in the ITER Project, according to Campbell. "The transfer of knowledge between generations is a key element of the scientific enterprise and an integral component of the development of ITER as an international centre of fusion research.”

Adressing concerns, providing clarifications

The complexity of ITER—not only of its science and technology but also of its governance and legal framework—leaves room for many a misunderstanding.

This was amply demonstrated last Wednesday 3 July during the public meeting that the Local Commission for Information (CLI) had organized in the neighbouring village of Vinon-sur-Verdon.

The CLI is the official citizens’ watchdog group that acts as an interface between the ITER Organization and the local population. Anything that the public feels it should know falls under the CLI’s jurisdiction. And there are many things that, quite legitimately, the public wants to know about ITER.

Since it was established two and half years ago, the CLI has focused on nuclear safety issues, which has led to a fruitful dialogue between the 42 CLI members and ITER’s Department of Safety, Quality & Security.

Lately, the focus has shifted from nuclear safety to the economic and social impact of the ITER project. And at last Wednesday’s public meeting in Vinon, questions about the planned arrival of some 3,000 workers on the ITER worksite dominated the (heated) debate.

Where will the workers come from? What accommodations have been prepared for them? How will they commute to the ITER worksite?

Certain groups have long voiced concern over the legal status of the ITER  workers. Recently, too, in blogs and articles published in France, the worry has been expressed that they will be underpaid and deprived of social protection.

As was made clear by the presentations given by the ITER Organization, Agence Iter France, Vinci (which leads the consortium that will build the Tokamak Complex) and representatives of the French authorities, these worries and concerns are totally unfounded.

All workers on the ITER site, whatever their nationality or that of the company employing them, will be subjected by law to French labour regulations and to the collective agreements (convention collective) that govern specific branches. This is the case now on the ITER site, as it will be the case when the number of workers doubles, triples and quadruples.

Addressing another point of concern—that ITER will be built by mainly foreign workers—figures were provided that showed that of the 3,000 workers expected, the majority will be recruited in France. Ten to twenty percent only will originate from the rest of Europe. (Statistics from another large construction project in France—the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) in Flamanville—confirm these projections.)

During the meeting, misunderstanding was also prevalent over worker transport and accommodation. Considering the difficulty of finding decent housing at a reasonable price in Provence and the already heavy traffic on the roads around ITER, the local population is legitimately preoccupied by the peak in construction activities on the construction site.

Not all of the 3,000 workers will be looking for accommodation, however, as a significant proportion of workers will be hired locally through companies that subcontract to the main consortiums.

Estimations range from 1,500 to 2,000 workers needing accommodation—still a high number but, as Vinon mayor Claude Cheilan noted, „this is not an unbearable load considering that the population pool around ITER numbers 200,000.”

Working closely with mayors all around ITER, Agence Iter France has conducted a survey of available housing and identified 19 locations where accommodation solutions could be developed within 30 minutes of ITER. Transportation to and from work will be organized, and rationalized, by the companies operating on the ITER site, who have a contractual obligation to provide it to the workers.

The steady rise in the construction workforce expected at ITER clearly presents organizational challenges that must be addressed and explained to the public. That’s one of the lessons from last Wednesday’s public meeting.

"Cooperation will make this project successful"

Following closely on the heels of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee, STAC, which convened at ITER Headquarters from 14-16 May, the ITER Council’s management advisory body, the Management Advisory Committee, MAC, met from 21 to 23 May to examine strategic management issues such as schedule, cost and the implementation of plans for installation and assembly, testing and commissioning.

Close to fifty experts from the seven ITER Members were present in the Council Chamber of the Headquarters Building to address the charges from the last ITER Council (IC-11, November 2012) as well as the additional charges that resulted from the special meeting of the MAC in March.

As at the last meeting, the schedule remained the focus of discussion. MAC recognized the efforts of the ITER Organization and the Domestic Agencies that have resulted in improvement, particularly on the critical systems and components, and made further suggestions.

In the all-hands meeting that followed the closing session of the MAC, the ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima told the hundreds of staff members assembled, „At the conclusion of three days of discussion, I can tell you that the MAC was a productive one for us. We can draw up an action plan today, based on the recommendations from the MAC experts. As a Unique ITER Team we have made intense efforts to improve schedule performance and to implement the related corrective measures. We can and will keep this positive schedule trend.”

In break-out sessions over the course of the three days, MAC Chair Ranjay Sharan, from India, had time to comment: „Issue-based solutions are being found, one after another. The most important thing is that collaboration has increased and the Unique ITER Team (UIT) is working. We may be only in the initial stages … the UIT has yet to give concrete results … but we understand one another’s problems better. I want to insist on this: cooperation is the tool that will make this project successful.”

The report and recommendations formulated by the 15th meeting of the Management Advisory Council will be discussed at the next meeting of the ITER Council, which will take place in Tokyo, Japan from 19-20 June 2013.

STAC Chair reflects on latest meeting

The 14th meeting of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) took place recently at the ITER Headquarters, from 14-16 May. We had the honour to be the first committee that met in the impressive Council Room after it was inaugurated by the ITER Council last November.

The STAC advises the ITER Council on two areas: the monitoring of ongoing project activity and the assessment of new proposals which imply a change in the ITER Baseline. The work at every meeting is based on the „STAC charges” adopted by the ITER Council. We assess the input from the ITER Organization that replies to recommendations made by the STAC and answers questions implied in the STAC charges.

The preparation of each STAC meeting involves an important work load on key ITER Organization staff and, as Chair of the STAC, I am aware that we must be careful with the amount of work that our requirements put on ITER Organization resources. I must also recognize the high overall quality of the reports and presentations delivered to our committee.
One of the first agenda points since I have participated in the STAC is the review of the project schedule from a technical point of view. Essentially, we analyze the technical causes of delays, including aspects which are midway between the technical and the managerial world such as configuration control, quality control, process control, etc.

As is happened in previous meetings, STAC 14 continued to express its concern about delays in the project. A number of systems are „critical or supercritical,” which means that they drive the First Plasma schedule, amongst them buildings, vacuum vessel, the poloidal field coils … and even the toroidal field coils could come into this category if delays are not stemmed. In addition, the „microschedule” reflected in the milestone achievement index and similar management parameters also indicates delays. However my personal perception, and to some extent that of many STAC members, is that the processes are improving and that the project schedule will soon consolidate. The STAC also acknowledged the organizational efforts and the implementation of recovery plans in order to mitigate the delays.

As I explained during the meeting with the staff in the afternoon of 16 May, my personal view on the delays is that they are not dangerous per se for the project but they undermine our credibility in front of stakeholders and society and this is the actual danger. In order to rebuild credibility our best tool is to keep working hard, as everyone involved is already doing. The ITER project is not only extremely complicated technically, it is also a nuclear project, which adds complexity. It was conceived with a complicated collaborative structure and, unfortunately, an underestimated allocation of resources. The fact that it is effectively progressing and that many components are actually being constructed should encourage all of us.

In addition to the technical analysis of the schedule STAC also looked at deferrals, i.e., procurements which are proposed to be delayed in order to free resources for other items that are needed in earlier phases of the project. We were worried about the deferred implementation of some systems, in particular diagnostics, and we have requested the ITER Organization to make every possible effort to implement those systems in time in order to avoid delays to the deuterium-tritium campaign derived from a slow implementation of the research plan.

During STAC-14 we noted that the organization and the progress of neutronics analysis has improved, for which we commended the ITER Organization. We have requested further detail on the results obtained for the next meeting of the STAC, in particular in relation to the heating of toroidal field coils and shutdown dose rates near the ports.

The news presented to the STAC on the central solenoid conductor was very good: in the last tests of a new cable developed by the Japanese Domestic Agency it showed very good stability—in fact, the degradation noted in earlier samples was essentially non-existing. Thus, we are now confident that the construction of the central solenoid can go ahead while keeping ITER’s performance as originally planned.

This STAC had the responsibility to make a clear recommendation on an important technical decision: whether or not to include in-vessel coils for ELM control in the Baseline. After we evaluated the specific problems that a lack of ELM control could cause, in particular when operating with a tungsten divertor, our unanimous recommendation was to include the coils in the ITER Baseline. STAC concluded that the potential benefits of the use of the coils in achieving ITER’s mission outweigh the risks, which were found to be very modest taking into account the solid design of the coils and the fact that they will be thoroughly tested during the non-nuclear phase.

STAC expects to make a recommendation next October for another key technical decision: the material for the first ITER divertor (tungsten or carbon).

At STAC-14 we analyzed the input from the ITER Organization regarding progress in divertor technology and tungsten divertor physics and the preliminary report prepared by the ITPA topical groups, which provided an excellent in-depth review of what is known today concerning tokamak operation with high Z* walls. The results from JET and other devices give a positive view of the operation with tungsten divertor in ITER but impose some scenario restrictions that must be further considered for ITER. Experiments to be carried out at JET in the near future, aiming at local melting of some tungsten elements of the divertor, will provide important input for a final recommendation by the STAC on its next meeting.

A final element in the last STAC meeting was the monitoring of progress in a number of areas: remote handling, quality control, ion cyclotron, and negative neutral beam heating. On this last item STAC looks forward with interest to the recent start of activities in the ELISE facility, which will provide important input to the physics and engineering design of the neutral beam injection sources for ITER.

In summary, STAC 14 corroborated important steps in the progress in the ITER project, which we expect to see reinforced next October thanks to the continued effort of all ITER Organization staff.

* A high Z element, like tungsten, is an element with a high
atomic number—its nucleus includes a large number of protons.

Close team work and pleasure make winning robots

Some of the Region’s junior high and high school students woke last Thursday 16 May with one idea in mind: victory …

Since October for some, January for others, their science and technology classes, lunch breaks and Friday afternoons had gone to realizing and programming a small Lego robot—one that would successfully participate in and, if possible, carry the ITER Robots challenge launched by Agence Iter France and the ITER Organization for the second consecutive year. Each of the teams worked from a standard Lego kit that they customized, improving the optical sensors in some cases or modulating the articulating arm.

The five junior high and seven high school teams that had taken up the challenge arrived early at the Lycée des Iscles in Manosque, Lego model in hand, surrounded by their professors and classmates.

„A month ago, the jury visited the schools to assess the level of readiness, the technical maturity of each project,” said Jean-Pierre Friconneau, an engineer in the Remote Handling Section at ITER and moderator for the day. „I have to say that we were very impressed by the candidates’ understanding of the technical description, their organization. It was interesting to see the differences in the solutions imagined and very gratifying to see the young people’s enthusiasm.”

The first challenge, untimed, was to follow a pre-defined trajectory on the mat including curves, 90-degree turns and about-faces. A good number of the candidate teams—four of five junior high teams and four of seven high school teams—were eliminated after three unsuccessful tries at this stage.

As Jean-Pierre explained to the disappointed teams, because the lighting and surface conditions were not necessarily the same as those in the home practice areas only the teams that had included enough of a tolerance margin in their programs were successful: „Engineering comes down to making choices, and all engineers learn from their mistakes,” he told the students, as he encouraged them to persist in their exploration of mechanics, electronics and programming.

For the teams still in the race, the second challenge was a timed remote handling task that involved picking up as many blanket modules as possible from the ITER Tokamak model and delivering them successfully to the nearby Hot Cell.

„The technical complexity of this competition and the fact that the students have worked together, collaboratively, around a common project, responds in all points to what we’d like to see more of in schools,” said Bruno Pélissier who, as inspecteur pédagogique d’académie, is involved in the content of school programs in the area. „We supported this program—and worked hard to extend it to the high schools—because it provides an opportunity for practical, hands-on applications for what is learned in the classroom.”

At the junior high level, it was a clear victory for the Sainte-Tulle team for the second consecutive year, with a robot that was rapid and precise. Their recipe for success? „Close team work and pleasure in working on this project with our professors,” team leaders Alicia, Flavien and Mathis reported.

The high school competition was a tighter contest, with three teams advancing to the second stage—Lycée Thiers from Marseille,  Lycée d’Altitude from Briançon, and Lycée des Iscles—and only two on to the final stand-off where the jury gave each team minutes to re-program their robot to pick up a specific module, chosen by throw of the dice.

Even the professors were surprised to see how well the teams responded under pressure. „What I saw,” said a supervisor from Briançon, whose group placed second, „was that a group that was very disparate at the start came together around this year-long project. It motivated them. The students made their own choices in conceiving and programming their robots and we stood back and watched them go down unsuccessful roads before they found the solutions that worked. You have no idea how valuable an experience like that is. We’re really happy to be here today.”

In the end, the first prize at the high-school level went to the Lycée Thiers from Marseille. The winning team walked away with passes for an afternoon of Laser Game with their classmates and an educational robot that will allow them to continue their exploration of robotics.

Click here to view ITER Robots image gallery.

Kurchatov: the year of the three jubilees

This year has become the Year of the Jubilee for the world-famous Kurchatov Institute, which has played a key role in ensuring national security and the development of important strategic branches of Soviet and Russian science and industry since its founding in 1943 in Moscow.

In 2013, the Kurchatov celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding, the 110th anniversary of the birth of institute founder academician Igor Kurchatov, and also the 110th anniversary of the birth of academician Anatoly Alexandrov, who became the second Kurchatov Institute director and headed it for 25 years.

The Kurchatov today possesses a unique research and technological base, performing R&D in a wide range of science and technology areas, from power engineering, convergent technologies and elementary particle physics to high technology medicine and information technologies.

The Institute’s role in the development of thermonuclear fusion research is hard to overestimate. Under the scientific guidance of Igor Golovin, the first tokamak was assembled in1955—in fact, he coined the term TOKAMAK that is now widely acknowledged by the world community.

Read more about the Kurchatov Institute here.

In dealing with the press, openness is key

On 22 and 23 April, the ITER Organization welcomed 19 science journalists from the European Union’s Science Journalist Association (EUSJA). This was the result of an initiative taken jointly by the Russian journalist Viola Egikova, vice-president of EUSJA, and ITER Communication to present ITER and the project’s underlying fusion science and technology to a group of selected science journalists.

The two-day program included a visit of the worksite and presentations by several ITER scientists and engineers on status of the project, plasma physics, the chemistry of tritium, etc. Interviews were also organized at the requests of the journalists.

As Head of Communications, I believe it is essential to work with the press and to handle their requests as swiftly as possible, as there is still a huge information gap and major communication needs relative to ITER and fusion. In my opinion, the aim is not so much the information that you deliver but the openness and the dialogue that you establish (or make visible) … and  the respect for journalistic work.

„Indeed, I was pleased to see the openness of the ITER Communication team,” said Amanda Verdonck, a free-lance Dutch journalist who participated in the EUSJA visit. „But I was really impressed by the scale of the project and the sophisticated scientific knowledge that has gone into the machine. And I will be further impressed to see all this functioning! Like your videoconference system — quite impressive to me!”

How to attract Russian specialists to mega science?

Participation in large-scale, unique international scientific and technical projects is among the most important orientations for Russia’s R&D potential today. Without a doubt, the specialists capable of solving the most demanding and sophisticated tasks in this type of project are a very valuable resource.

How to attract domestic specialists to this kind of project was discussed on 12 March at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute, (MEPhI) within the framework of a round table dedicated to the „Participation of Russian specialists in international megaprojects: fundamental research.” The round table was held by the magazine Atomic Expert and supported by the Strana Rosatom newspaper.

Important questions discussed during the round table were: How to develop a long term strategy for the participation of experts? Which resources and administrational solutions are required? On the efficient resolution of these issues depends the success of Russia’s collaboration in megaprojects, as well as the development of Russia’s fundamental R&D base.

The round table was moderated by Deputy Director of Rosatom’s Innovations Management Complex, Oleg Patarakin, and the Pro-rector for Research at MEPhI, Anatoly Petrovskiy. 

Anatoli Krasilnikov, head of the Russian Domestic Agency for ITER, presented a report on the human resource policy for the implementation of the ITER project. In his estimation, „the training of specialists for the implementation of the national program in fusion should be considered as one of the key tasks of Russia’s participation in ITER. We should work out and realize a rational system of staff training.” Oleg Patarakin also put an accent on the strategic importance of the ITER project. „ITER is a project of the highest world level, at the very core of science and technology. The project has long-lasting prospects, and specialists have the possibility of linking their professional lives to it.”
The round table participants shared the common opinion that attracting young people to megaprojects is a task requiring a complex approach that should be addressed by educational and research organizations, as well as legal bodies on different levels. For Russia, one of the main conditions of successful staff training is the development of long-term research programs.

For further information (in Russian) please follow the link:

ITER and China to promote scientific cooperation

The ITER Organization and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of the People’s Republic of China have signed a Memorandum of Understanding aiming to promote the scientific and technological cooperation between the world-spanning network of laboratories and institutes engaged in fusion research.

On 13 August, during his recent visit to Beijing, ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima and Vice-Minister CAO Jianlin signed the Memorandum. China is one of the seven founding Members of the ITER Organization and MOST is steering the country’s national scientific and technological development.

The agreement comprises „the exchange of and training of scientists, engineers, specialists, administrators and project managers with regard to mega science projects for agreed periods of time; the organization of seminars and workshops; and the exchange of information and data on scientific and technical activities taking into account the Intellectual Property rules of the ITER project.” 

Japanese Minister of Science and Education (MEXT) visits ITER site

On Saturday 28 July 2012, the Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Hirofumi Hirano, visited ITER on his way back from London where he had participated in the inauguration of the Olympic Games.

The Minister was welcomed by the ITER Organization’s Director-General, Osamu Motojima, and met with Japanese staff working at the Organization. The Delegation visited the PF Coil Building, the foundations of the Tokamak and the new Headquarters building which is in its final stages of completion.

Minister Hirano highlighted the „importance of the ITER project in the context of energy research” and stressed the fact that „this concern is shared by all countries in the world, not just by Japanese people”.

In an interview with the local newspaper La Provence, the Minister was quoted as saying that in the global quest for energy security fusion certainly was „one of the major aims to pursue”. It is of utmost importance, he added, „that every ITER Member share  a common commitment to the project. This strong determination will allow ITER to keep its schedule and produce First Plasma in 2020.”

Minister Hirano extended his thanks and appreciation to the French authorities and to CEA for activally contributing to the implementation of the ITER project and, also, for their support „at the time of the events in Fukushima.”

Addressing the Minister, CEA-Cadarache Director Maurice Mazière pointed out „the excellent relations that existed between Japan and France in the area of energy research, and particularly that of fusion.” M. Mazière added that France was „very glad to see the personal interest taken by Minister Hirano in the ITER project.”

„This was a very important opportunity for the ITER project to welcome the Minister of MEXT,” said DG Motojima. „The visit allowed the Minister to really see the progress being made on the construction of ITER and to express his strong interest in, inter alia, the safety of fusion technology, including anti-seismic structures. It was also very encouraging for us to directly experience Japan’s support to the project.”
More pictures and a video of the Minister’s visit.
Click here for a Japanese translation of the article published in La Provence.

Cryopumps: fewer, cheaper and no less efficient

In the pre-2001 design, when ITER was to be nearly the size of Saint-Peter’s Basilica in Rome, 16 cryopumps were to be accommodated at the divertor level of the vacuum vessel.

Cryopumps have the essential function of removing impurities and helium ash from the plasma, enabling the plasma to continue to burn and produce fusion power.

The requirements for vacuum pumping are linked to the plasma fuelling rates—even in the „smaller” ITER these had to be maintained. Design developments in cryo-pumping allowed the machine to be optimized with ten cryopumps in 2001 and eight in 2003.

Eight cryopumps has been the Baseline design figure until recently, when the ITER Director-General proposed to simplify the divertor ports of the machine and remove all „T-shaped” branch ducts. This left only five or six positions where cryopumps could be placed.

This bold proposal was quite a challenge for the ITER Vacuum team. „Let’s say our creativity was strongly stimulated…” recounts ITER Vacuum Section Head, Robert Pearce. „A five-pump solution was proposed, but this was considered rather risky for the goals of achieving ITER’s fusion power mission.”

Following discussions at the Science and Technology Advisory Council in November 2011 and at the Ninth ITER Council later that month, a much improved solution was found: there would be six divertor cryopumps in ITER doing the job that was originally assigned to sixteen.

„Basically, improvements in the cryopumping system design over many years have allowed the cryopumps to sit in bigger housings, enabling them to pump longer and store more gas and impurities,” says Robert. The new housings are „simpler” and have a volume of greater than 14 m3, as compared to 8 m3 in 2003. As the pumping configuration at the bottom of the machine (divertor level) was changed, it became possible to make improvements that resulted in the easier integration of other systems.

„We think that the overall six-pump solution is better in the end: we now have six identical systems. Operations are made simpler and the performance of the system is as good previously,not affected,” conclude Robert and his Vacuum team.

Considering that each branch duct and cryopump is a multimillion-euro component, the savings for the ITER project are considerable.