ITER: everyday innovation
Written by Rob Sharratt, Senior Lead Engineer
A decade since the agreement was signed between the seven members of the ITER organisation (China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States), it’s almost become a cliché that this is the most innovative project in the nuclear industry. The complexity of the ITER project as a whole and the massive investment it takes mean that no one nation could, or should, be responsible for it all. International collaboration and commercial innovation are fundamental to its success and relationships must allow a more dynamic and flexible, partnership style. Delivering a research & development project of this size and nature into reality through a multinational, multi-discipline, multi-partner team is innovative and novel in itself.
Nuclear fusion is about harnessing the energy that is released when atomic nuclei are forced to join together, instead of repel, as they do naturally. This normally only happens inside a star so replicating those conditions on earth requires extreme conditions of temperatures and pressures.
As an engineer who has spent a good proportion of my career on fusion energy, innovation has become second nature and maybe doesn’t feel all that unusual any more.
It always amazes me the amount of technological innovations taking place every day on the ITER site in Cadarache and in the hundreds of offices around the world working on the design and development of not just the Tokamak itself, but the supporting infrastructure around it. My colleagues in the Engage consortium recently won Frances’s most prestigious engineering award, the Grand Prix National de l’Ingénierie 2017 in recognition of the outstanding and innovative solutions they are developing as part of their construction of the ITER site.
Specialising in the field of remote handling, the ITER project has given me a unique opportunity to develop remote maintenance solutions of the future that push the boundaries of what is possible. The ITER machine presents unique challenges; whilst there are other Tokomaks in the world, there is currently nothing else of this scale and so there isn’t a template that can be followed, we are continuously having to find new, innovative solutions.
Our team, including other specialist partners from around Europe, are resolving the complex challenges this project presents through a combination of innovations. Using system engineering techniques, developing new applications for established digital and simulation tools, physical development testing of new methods and collaborative working on a large scale are all required to enable the future remote handling system to be designed today.
So whilst innovation is an everyday event on the ITER project, there is nothing ordinary about this project. We are fortunate to be part of advancing fusion science and preparing the way for the fusion power plants of tomorrow when all the effort will pay dividends and energy production through nuclear fusion will hopefully be an everyday reality.
Rob Sharratt MEng, FIMechE
Senior Lead Engineer
Assystem Energy & Infrastructure.