Europe delivers ITER’s final Poloidal Field

Successful completion of Europe’s ITER Poloidal Field coil 3, PF coils factory, Cadarache, France, April 2024. ©F4E

It’s curtain call for Europe’s Poloidal Field (PF) coils. F4E and our team of suppliers have successfully completed PF3—the final and biggest of the six superconducting magnets that will embrace from top to bottom the ITER plasma. With a magnet measuring 24.7 m, and weighing 384 tonnes, the production finale could only be described as big. There is no other word to transmit the titanic effort behind this achievement, especially if one considers that Europe built on the ITER site a factory to produce those gigantic coils, because they were too large to  travel on the highways in Southern France.

Four of the six coils were entirely fabricated in a facility which is 300 m long, opposite the Assembly Hall of the Tokamak Complex. This factory was the home of all the tooling and infrastructure to produce magnets that ranged from 17-24 m in diameter. Over the years up to 100 people from at least 10 European companies have worked in shifts, provided their expertise, assembled equipment, carried inspections and checks. To name a few: Sea AlpElytt Energy, Alsymex  and Criotec  have supplied the tooling and the cold test facility respectively; ASG Superconductors has been acting as the engineering integrator and together with CNIM, the two companies have been entrusted with manufacturing.

completion cold test on PF coil 3
Successful completion of cold tests for Europe’s ITER Poloidal Field coil 3, PF coils factory, Cadarache, France, March 2024. ©F4E

Two of the smaller coils were produced off-site, because it was possible to transport them by sea, and subsequently, on the highway from the industrial port of Marseille to Cadarache. One of the smaller coils (PF6), resulted from the collaboration between Europe and China, produced in Hefei (China) with the strong involvement of the F4E team, while PF1 was produced in Russia.

PF Coil 4
ITER’s fourth Poloidal Field coil (PF4), produced by F4E, installed in the cryostat to start cryogenic tests at 80K. PF coils factory, Cadarache, February 2023. ©F4E

The bigger coils however presented a distinct set of challenges because of the risks that could creep in the manufacturing process. Therefore, more hands and eyes were needed to overview the production, inspect meticulously those massive lengths of conductor, check their insulation and impregnation carefully, conduct with success the demanding cold tests. Time was of essence, putting pressure on our teams on the ground to work in parallel on several coils. This is where the project management skills kicked in to agree on the best sequence of actions and relocate equipment to make the best use of space. Almost like moving the layers of Rubik’s cube to achieve a perfect alignment.

“It took us roughly 2 years and 9 months to complete PF3 – approximately 15% less than PF4, and about 40% less than PF5. Learning by doing clearly paid off by applying lessons from the previous coils which were smaller compared to PF3,” explains Enrico Vizio, F4E’s Acting Magnets Programme Manager. But make no mistake, getting there required a lot of effort in rallying the troops and keeping momentum. “Working in an integrated team, with F4E staff, suppliers, and colleagues from ITER Organization, requires a lot of co-ordination, communication, and the ability to strike a balance between our common objectives and specific demands. It’s extremely important to make sure that all parties are on the same page,” he explains. “On personal level, this is the end of a long journey with many colleagues already deployed in other technical teams. I would like to thank all the people who made this project a success story with their professionalism and, above all, with their personal contribution which was the essential element of our proficient teamwork.”

ITER PF coils factory
View of ITER Poloidal Field coils factory, where four of the five European coils, were manufactured, Cadarache, France, 2019. ©F4E

Alessandro Bonito-Oliva, currently leading Tokamak Systems in ITER Organization, and previously F4E’s Magnets Programme Manager, shares some of his thoughts as he looks back on some of the key moments. “I’m very proud of what we have achieved as a team because of the unique situation we found ourselves in managing this project. Not only this is the largest superconducting magnet, but above all, this has been a one-of-a-kind team effort based on hard work, enthusiasm, commitment, and personal sacrifice. The team spirit between F4E, its suppliers, and ITER Organization was what kept us together. We started with the production of PF6 in Hefei, China, 14500 Km away from our offices, and eventually kicked off production in Europe, where F4E had to run a factory, co-ordinate and directly manage suppliers. During COVID-19, we also demonstrated our resilience by ensuring a level of business continuity, either on-site or remotely, in line with protocols. And now with the completion of PF3 we can look at this incredible journey with a sense of joy and gratitude for what we have accomplished together.”

To view all F4E images of the PF coils manufacturing click here.

To view our playlist with videos recounting Europe’s involvement in the PF coils click here.