Consortium bids for giant reactor contract

30 March 2009

Four UK companies have joined forces to bid for the construction of the main reactor vacuum vessel of the €5 billion ITER (International Tokamak Experimental Reactor). The nuclear fusion reactor, being built in Cadarache, France is designed to demonstrate the integrated physics and engineering needed for a fusion power station and is expected to produce 500 MW of power.

Schematic of the Vacuum Vessel
Schematic of the Vacuum Vessel

The consortium comprises Davy Markham, a specialist in the fabrication and machining of large structures, and precision fabricator Metalcraft. Engineering consultancy AMEC and The Welding Institute are providing specialist support that will be needed during the construction of the vacuum vessel segments.

One of the world’s largest international co-operative research & development projects, ITER will be at least twice the linear dimensions and sixteen times the mass of the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor vessel in Oxfordshire, currently the world's largest fusion reactor.

Europe and Korea are building the ITER vacuum vessel; consisting of nine D-shaped, vacuum vessel sectors, each weighing about 450 tons, its external diameter will measure 19.4m, with an internal diameter of 6.5 m. Once assembled, the entire structure will be 11.3 m high. Fabrication tolerances for the whole vessel, including field assembly, are expected to be less than 20mm for both height and width. When all the vacuum vessel's shielding and port structures are included, it will weigh in excess of 5000 tonnes.

Europe is providing seven vacuum vessel sectors and the remaining two will be supplied by Korea. Contracts for the ITER vacuum vessel are likely to be placed during 2009 / 2010.

Managing director of Davy Markam, Kevin Parkin, explained the background to the consortium describing ITER as “an exciting business opportunity”.

He said the vacuum vessel was a significant engineering challenge that required the expertise of several companies. The consortium allowed the companies to present a solid technical and commercial case, he said.

Davy Markham and Metalcraft of Cambridgeshire have worked together previously on projects at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Metalcraft has experience of manufacturing vacuum and ultra-high vacuum vessels for major scientific projects, including the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

The key technical challenges associated with the ITER project concern the need to meet the demanding accuracies involved in assembling the vessels and minimising metal shrinkage, necessitating the use of electron beam welding.

Peter Kenny, managing director of Metalcraft said he was confident with the consortium’s ability to overcome materials-related issues.

‘Our colleagues at The Welding Institute have significant experience of electron beam welding techniques which will be invaluable for ensuring the consortium addresses many of ITER's technical concerns,’ he said.

‘ITER is a challenging undertaking that presents many business opportunities for UK companies,’ said Dan Mistry, UKAEA's Fusion and Industry manager, responsible for encouraging UK companies to supply the ITER project.

‘I would like to encourage companies, especially those with heavy/medium engineering capabilities that have relevant skills and experience, to get involved with the ITER consortium,’ he concluded.

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