NDT.net July 2006, Vol. 11 No.7

Phoenix technology is key to ITER the world s largest nuclear fusion project

An NDT equipment specialist is playing a pivotal role in the construction of the world s largest nuclear fusion experimental reactor. Phoenix Inspection Systems Ltd is developing a major weld inspection system for the 5 billion Euro International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER) to be built at Cadarache in France.

ITER is the next step in the search for fusion power as a commercial energy source. The project is truly global and funded by the EU, United States, Russia, Japan, China, India and South Korea. Phoenix, based in Warrington, UK, will use advanced ultrasonic non-destructive testing techniques to check the welds in the ITER vacuum vessel, the largest and most important component in the ITER project.

Measuring 15m high by 25m in overall diameter, the vacuum vessel is where the high temperature fusion plasma is held. The plasma is around 10 times hotter than the Sun at 150 million degrees Celsius and held away from the inner walls of the vacuum vessel by magnets in a magnetic bottle . In an actual fusion power station, the heat from the plasma would then be used to produce steam and generate electricity.

The vacuum vessel is made up of nine segments, each of which has to be welded in place to complete the full doughnut-style Tokamak structure. Narrow gap welding of these segments using either Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) or Electron Beam (EB) welding is particularly attractive as it reduces the risk of distortion over the long length of the weld. However, such narrow gap welds are difficult to inspect at the best of times using conventional ultrasonic technology, these difficulties being enormously compounded by the confines of the vacuum vessel structure.

To overcome these issues, Phoenix has been awarded a 320K contract funded by the EU to develop special ultrasonic methods and sensors mounted on a flexible probe pan that will be transported by the welding robot to perform automated ultrasonic inspection of these critical welds.

ITER will be a showcase for many new and exciting engineering and materials technologies. We are delighted that Phoenix Inspection Systems has been chosen to play such an important role in the project, said Karl Quirk, managing director, Phoenix Inspection Systems.

The Phoenix project team is headed by (Special Projects Manager) John Turner. Inspecting narrow gap welding joints is particularly challenging. Our state-of-the-art inspection techniques have been developed over several years for the ITER project team and will give us the capability to provide an effective inspection method for this difficult welded joint.

John Turner and his team will also be working in co-operation with CEA (Commissariat l'Energie Atomique) as part of a collaborative ( Round Robin ) trial to evaluate the performance of the best currently available ultrasonic inspection systems for the ITER vacuum vessel. CEA (France) will co-ordinate the work of Phoenix (UK) and Echo (Russian Federation) to certify the weld inspection technology for the forthcoming vacuum vessel manufacture. CEA work is supported by the European Atomic Energy Community within the framework of the European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA).

We are delighted that Phoenix Inspection Systems has been awarded this important contract. UK industry has the skills and expertise needed for the construction and operation of ITER. Therefore we urgently require UK companies wishing to supply goods / services to the ITER project to consider registering their interest on the Fusion and Industry web site (vwww.fusion.org.uk/industry), said Dan Mistry, Fusion and Industry Manager, UKAEA Culham Division.

The Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire is the home of the UK s fusion research programme and JET (the Joint European Torus) the world s largest fusion experiment. UKAEA Fusion and Industry is co-ordinating the UK s response to the business opportunities arising from ITER.

Construction of ITER is expected to commence later this year.

For further information on how UK companies can participate in the ITER project visit the UKAEA Fusion and Industry web site or contact Dan Mistry, UKAEA Fusion and Industry manager on 01235 466607, e-mail: dan.mistry@ukaea.org.uk. Further information on the ITER project can be found at www.iter.org.

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