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Fusion energy technology progresses at Tampere


VTT and Tampere University of Technology (TUT) are responsible for the development of remote maintenance systems for the world’s most challenging energy project, ITER. Experience using full-scale test equipment has been positive, and the work continues.

Fusion energy research is about to enter a new phase with the global ITER project - the goal is to prove that fusion is a technically and economically viable energy source. ITER is one of humankind’s most challenging energy projects, and Finnish research and industry are closely involved. Developing the maintenance systems for the most critical components of the fusion plant to be built in France is the responsibility of VTT and TUT.

“Thus far, we have been able to use a transport robot to move a ten-tonne reactor element (cassette) along a desired route at an accuracy of around +/- 1 millimetre, and position the cassette in the reactor at a similar level of accuracy. Mechanical flexing in various situations can be compensated so well by the controls that a +/- 1 millimetre accuracy is achievable. The flexing can also be displayed to the operator using a virtual model that matches reality”, says the director of the DTP2 (Divertor Test Platform) project, Acting Research Professor Mikko Siuko from VTT:

“Testing the maintenance work is still in its early stages, and many demanding work phases remain to be tested. The operation is currently being tested on so-called basic cases, after which various possible error situations that could occur in reality will be introduced in stages. The experience gained from the system developed thus far allows us to continue on our chosen path with confidence”, says Siuko.

In the future, the test platform will be expanded, and more work phases and equipment will be included. The system will be expanded with, for example, a transport robot travelling on a circular track inside the reactor. The expansion also allows the addition of various manipulation and connection tasks, and pipe and structural welding. 

Remote Operation and Virtual Technologies in a Central Role

Remote operation and virtual technologies play a central role in the maintenance of the ITER reactor, and they also provide numerous opportunities for applications in industry. The equipment is being developed and tested using virtual models before the actual prototypes are built. Various computer simulations can, therefore, be used to ensure that all the systems are compatible with each another, that they can fit into cramped spaces and still work, that the required forces are achieved, and that the flexing remains within allowed limits. Virtual technologies are key to the task design and control of the robots; for example, they are used to replace incomplete camera images and to complement the operator’s senses.

Using augmented reality techniques, parts modelled using a computer or other information can be inserted into the camera image, and the modelled equipment or structure can be viewed in its final operating environment. The progress of the construction or assembly work can be monitored stage by stage. Virtual prototyping, or digital engineering, allows making the research and development of equipment significantly faster, and the number of prototypes built can be reduced. Additionally, tasks that previously had to be carried out sequentially can now be performed in parallel. For example, programming and testing of the control system can be started with a good virtual model.

A massive European testing and development environment for remote maintenance systems was commissioned at Tampere in January 2009. In cooperation with other European companies and research institutes, eequipment, methodology, software and all segments of digital mechanical engineering are developed in the DTP2 research environment for ITER remote operation needs over coming decades. The purpose of the Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre (ROViR) is rapidly to make available the results of top research in the ITER energy project for the use of other industry, in order to improve productivity and competitiveness.

Finland active in EU cooperation

Finnish fusion research is integrated into the EU’s fusion research programme through a Contract of Association between Tekes and Euratom. The overall extent of fusion research funded by Tekes is currently around EUR 5 million per year, of which Tekes funds around EUR 2 million. Finland has participated in the EU fusion research cooperation from the start in nationally selected research areas, amassing special know-how for both research and the industry.

Due to the amassed know-how, Finnish research and industry are in a good position concerning the research and development work required in ITER construction and services, and industrial deliveries and service agreements.

VTT’s research represents roughly half of Finnish fusion research. VTT concentrates on remote maintenance systems in cooperation with TUT, new welding methods and welding robots in cooperation with Lappeenranta University of Technology, materials research, magnetic diagnostics (MEMS magnetometers) and first wall diagnostics (smart tiles). Additionally, VTT participates in Euratom’s fusion experiments (JET and AUG) and performs massive calculations for fusion plasmas and plasma-material interactions. All these areas are very important for ITER construction, safety issues and the future experimental programme.

ITER demands a great deal of the new technology, as it is used to control fusion plasma burning at a temperature of one hundred million degrees Celsius.

In addition to the EU, Japan, USA, Russia, China, India and South Korea are also participating in the Europe-driven ITER project. If the project is successful, it will make fusion a real energy option for the future, and make an important contribution to the sustainable energy mix of the future. The benefits of fusion energy are its almost unlimited fuel reserves and, for example, its climate friendliness. ITER is also a huge technology development platform in many high-technology fields, increasing the competitiveness of Europe’s technology industry through new expertise.

The construction of the global ITER fusion reactor has been estimated to cost about EUR fifteen billion over the period 2007-2020. The site preparations for the 500 MW test reactor have been completed, and excavations have started at Caradache, Southern France. The procurement arrangements for the most important components (the magnets and the vacuum chamber) architect-engineering contract for buildings have been are signed.

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Kuivanen presentation: New opportunities for the industry
Siuko presentation: Promising results from the operation of the ITER Maintenance System

Further information about ITER:
ITER video: