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Media Corner
13 July 2015

F4E invites ITER Remote Handling community to develop an industrial culture for fusion reactors’ maintenance

Participants discuss the latest developments in ITER Remote Handling systems

Remote Handling (RH) is one of the most fascinating ITER systems encompassing a vast range of technologies that cross-cut the functions of the biggest-ever fusion device. High-tech robotics operating with extreme dexterity and millimetric precision will be used to carry out from a distance a sequence of complex tasks. A fine-tuned choreography where cranes, tooling and manipulators will be moving impressive weights like in the case of the installation and replacement of the ITER Divertor cassettes or the maintenance of the Neutral Beam Injector system.

In spite of the fact that virtual reality platforms play a significant role in this system, the two day workshop organised on 17-19 June in Barcelona by F4E, ITER IO and Japan’s ITER Domestic Agency, was all about bringing together under the same roof more than 50 experts working in this field. Participants met all together for the first time and reported on the current progress of their work; recent technology breakthroughs and areas of mutual collaboration. This first-of-a-kind workshop went beyond the conventions of a business networking event. It laid the foundations for a technology cluster consisting of pioneers working in this domain.

Carlo Damiani, F4E’s Project Manager for ITER Remote Handling systems, and his team have been working hard during the last couple of months to see this idea through. This has been an important achievement because it can be considered as a first step towards the development of an innovation community where participants could all learn from one another and evolve. “Now that we have a critical mass of big industries, SMEs and fusion laboratories contributing to ITER’s RH system through contracts and grants, we have started to form an integrated team. With more business opportunities in the horizon, this community is expected to grow in size and expertise. The sooner we bring the different parties together the better so that they benefit from each other’s expertise. This initiative will also help F4E, ITER IO and Japan’s ITER Domestic Agency to develop a better understanding of the field and have a strategic overview” he explained.

Jim Palmer, Acting Section Leader of ITER IO Remote Handling and Hot Cell Complex, confirmed that “the open and frank exchanges created a team spirit that helped people to see beyond their sub-system. It gave them a sense of the big picture and of the impressive industrial potential stemming from their design and R&D”. Part of the ITER Remote Handling system will be manufactured in Japan which is why Nobuzaku Takeda represented Japan’s ITER Domestic Agency to the workshop. In his view “there is a clear industrial potential that will mature with time. To give you an example, we will be developing special cameras fit to sustain the harsh environment of the Tokamak machine that could be of use in other industrial applications”.

During the workshop we met with some of the participants to learn how they contributed to the different thematic sessions and what sort of challenges they identified.

Bryn Thomas, Head of Civil Nuclear Power working for Assystem UK, offered a progress report regarding the contract for the Divertor Remote Handling system awarded by F4E. “Thanks to this workshop we became aware of some very useful developments in electronics and camera systems that may yield potential benefits across all remote handling systems. Some of the challenges that we face are linked to the management of interfaces between systems and components; the maturity of technologies in manipulators, cutting, welding and hydraulic systems” he explained.

For Ian Grayson, Boiler Spine Programme Director for AMEC Foster Wheeler, managing the contract for the Neutral Beam Injector Remote Handling system that recently awarded by F4E, “sharing our thoughts on some technical problems and identifying ways to solve them has been extremely useful. We are in the process of preparing the first task order of our contract to review the existing design concept. Any unexpected changes in the different components manufactured around the world will have an impact on the system. We would therefore need to test the mock-ups off site in facilities on the basis of the specifications we get”.

Apart from tooling, RH systems require sophisticated software solutions that will enable the equipment to run smoothly. Héctor Novella, GTD Project Manager for Energy and Science, has been working on the development of a GENROBOT, a generic low level control system software controller for the RH Control System. “This workshop helped us to get in touch with the ITER RH community and we developed an understanding of who does what and how. This is extremely useful for a company like ours which has a proven track record in critical systems but we are newbies in robotics” he stated.

This innovation cluster, however, is not only for big players. This is a technology area that requires flexibility and creative thinking in order to integrate niche skills that mostly SMEs master. Amada Egineering, an Italian company working in the field of engineering solutions, is contributing to the GENROBOT project, under the supervision of GTD, providing technical support in design and testing of software for RH systems. “Some of the main challenges that we face are about the definition of standards and the identification of the right interface” said Marco Ricci.

From such workshop, European fusion laboratories could not be absent given the fact that they are vital motors of most of the R&D that is subsequently passed on to industry. And the best way of making this point was by inviting Tony Loving, Chief Fusion Technologist from the UK Atomic Authority, working on remote systems of DEMO in order to raise awareness about the post-ITER era where a more powerful machine will come to play. Minimising shut down for maintenance and maximising overall operation summarise the main challenges that RH systems will have to face in future. “There will be many parallels with ITER, for example: maintenance of power plant sub-systems, transportation of activated and contaminated components, decontamination and detritiation. This said, any future fusion device to be realised will have to take advantage of the technology investment within the ITER programme” he explained.

This first attempt of gathering F4E’s RH systems contractors was extensively praised and has led the organisers to plan a follow-up in 2016 where future contractors will also be invited. It has also led F4E, ITER IO and Japan’s ITER Domestic Agency for ITER to the decision of holding a monthly co-ordination meeting, on top of the regular bilateral meetings, to address the progress of technical issues in a more integrated manner. Last but not least, it has raised awareness across the suppliers about the available expertise in this field and the possibilities of future partnerships.

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