Repair Work Begins on ITER Nuclear Fusion Reactor: Advancing the Future of Clean Energy

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The repair of the under-construction ITER nuclear reactor has commenced with the dismantling of the first sector of the active zone. Defects in component production and assembly were discovered during the initial stages of reactor assembly. The repair process, expected to last for years, will delay the reactor’s startup, and a new date for achieving the first plasma is yet to be announced.

Image source: ITER

The reactor’s active zone, designed to circulate 840 m3 of plasma, consists of nine identical wedge-shaped sectors weighing 440 tons each and standing at approximately 14 meters in height. Each sector is sequentially lowered into the reactor shaft and welded together by a robot. However, mismatches in the sections’ edges were identified after the second sector was installed, posing challenges for the welding process.

Metrological examinations revealed dimensional deviations in other sectors, necessitating the trimming or addition of hundreds of kilograms of metal to align the edges. Some sections were manufactured in the EU, while others were produced in South Korea, and issues were detected in both cases.

Complicating matters, each sector in the shaft is equipped with toroidal field magnets, thermal shields, and other equipment, significantly increasing the weight of each module to 1,200 tons. Engineers faced the challenge of extracting these components from the shaft without disassembly, a procedure not initially planned for. The successful extraction of the first sector took four days, and it has now been transported to the assembly workshop for final dismantling and repair of the attached components.

Additionally, repairs to the thermal shields are required, as cracks were discovered in the cooling pipes due to corrosion resulting from welding works performed by unqualified welders. Over 20 km of cooling pipes need to be replaced. These repairs will be carried out after the dismantling of the shields since conducting them within the shaft is not feasible.

The ITER Council was supposed to assess the situation in the spring of this year to establish a new date for achieving the first plasma. It is evident that the previously set deadline of 2025, which had been repeatedly postponed, is no longer feasible. However, the Council avoided making a definitive decision and promised to set a new reactor startup date in the spring of next year.

The ITER project reactor is not intended to produce electricity but rather serves as a proof-of-concept for controlled nuclear fusion reactions with energy gain. The reactor aims to generate 500 MW of energy for at least 400 s while consuming 50 MW for startup (in reality, an additional 300 MW may be required to support auxiliary systems). The ITER reactor is bristling with sensors, like a hedgehog with needles. Its primary goal is to provide the scientific community with a comprehensive understanding of the practical implementation of nuclear fusion at the scale of full-scale fusion power plants.

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Martin Harris
I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.

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