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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

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Work to house what will be the world's largest nuclear fusion machine has begun.

Located in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France, an expansive concrete "seismic pit" is the foundation for an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject: building the world's largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.

The concrete floor will be able to support over 400,000 tons of buildings, infrastructure and equipment, including the 23,000-ton tokamak machine.

Fusion for Energy

ITER's five-foot-thick concrete basemat includes 493 seismic pads meant to absorb an intense seismic shock. The foundation will have to support 400,000 tons of infrastructure.

The tokamak concept heats a fuel mixture made of deuterium, tritium and two isotopes of hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 150 million°C to form a hot plasma. The plasma is contained in a doughnut-shaped vacuum vessel, and strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the walls.

Energy Test Bed

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project was born 29 years ago when then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed an international project to then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan.

The goal was to develop fusion energy for nuclear purposes.

Now, ITER has seven members: Europe, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. Europe will contribute almost half the cost of construction; the other six members will equally contribute the rest.

Basemat work was carried out by Fusion for Energy, the agency that represents the European Union on the project. Fusion for Energy is responsible for financial and technical supervision for construction of 39 scientific buildings and dedicated areas on the ITER platform.

The basemat cost Fusion for Energy about €100 million ($124 million USD).

"Europe is taking the ITER construction to the next level," said Professor Henrik Bindslev, director of Fusion for Energy.

"The basemat is the test bed of the biggest international collaboration in the field of energy. It's where the scientific work and industrial know-how will come together and be deployed to seize the power of fusion energy."

Tons of Materials

The nearly-five-foot-thick reinforced concrete floor has a surface area of 31,496 square feet. Construction materials included 45,931 cubic feet of concrete; 3,600 tons of steel; and 2,500 embedded plates.

Under the top layer of concrete, 493 seismic pads were placed to absorb the effect of an intense seismic shock. The pads consist of columns topped with nearly eight-inch-thick anti-seismic bearings made of alternate layers of metal and rubber.

This video shows how the ITER basemat was constructed.

Fifteen plots of concrete were poured in December 2013; the nine central sections were poured within seven weeks of approval by the French Nuclear Authority in July.

'Historical Moment'

According to Fusion for Energy, the design and validation process was "extremely challenging" because the basemat will be the floor of the tokamak building that will house the machine and shield it. The structure was subjected to "heavy scrutiny" from the ITER International Organization and the French Nuclear Authority.

"The conclusion of this task is a historical moment for the project," said Professor Osamu Motojima, Director General of the ITER International Organization.

"Years of hard work by all ITER parties are bearing fruit as the facility takes shape and makes progress on all fronts."

Now that the basemat is finished, construction has started on the complex to house the huge core buildings.

Work has also begun on the Assembly Hall building, where massive ITER components will be put together.


Tagged categories: Concrete; Construction; Nuclear Power Plants; Research; Steel

Comment from Mark Anater, (11/11/2014, 11:42 AM)

Nuclear fusion as an energy source has been right around the corner for about 40 years now. If this project actually works it would be a huge step forward in breaking dependence on fossil fuel, but the huge expense of this building does put a damper on any expectations.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/12/2014, 8:30 AM)

Even if this works, unless it produces WAY more energy than I think it will - I doubt it will have any real effect on fossil fuel usage. Even with complete success, it is decades before fusion could even get to 1% of global electricity production. Fossil fuels are just too cheap and fusion is unproven and requires huge capital expenses. Wind and solar PV are well ahead of fusion, with prices cheap enough to start displacing fossil fuels in high energy-cost areas with either wind or sun in abundance. Falling prices on energy storage are probably even more important than the falling prices on PV panels.

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