Empowered by fusion

11 February 2021

Matt Gallimore speaks to NEI about Assystem’s work on nuclear fusion

ENGINEERING COMPANY ASSYSTEM IS WORKING on nuclear fusion projects around the world, including in China, France and the UK, and sees fusion as a key development area as well as an opportunity to attract a new generation of engineers to the industry, says Matt Gallimore, chief sales officer at Assystem in the UK.

Gallimore is responsible for leading and directing Assystem’s expansion in the UK fusion, decommissioning and defence sectors. His duties also include stakeholder management for Assystem in the nuclear industry across the UK and international projects.

Gallimore was recently appointed as chair of Nuclear Industry Association’s fusion working group. The group will link members with opportunities in the UK fusion sector and coordinate with government departments to profile industry expertise and generate connections for industry.

Assystem has unique experience as one of the first engineering companies to support the development of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) under construction at Cadarache in France — a project Gallimore describes as “the next stepping stone in the evolution of fusion energy.”

Assystem is Architect Engineer of ITER and a leading company in the Engage consortium (along with Egis, Atkins and Empresarios Agrupados), and is working through the Momentum consortium with Jacobs and KEPCO E&C to manage and coordinate the assembly and installation of more than one million components for the ITER tokamak.

Assystem is also in charge of delivering the ITER Divertor Remote Handling System (DRHS), which moved from design phase to prototyping in 2020, Gallimore says.

The DRHS is an essential tool for maintaining ITER, and is one of the first remote handling systems to be provided as part of the European contribution to the project.

The divertor, located at the bottom of the vacuum vessel, extracts impurities from the super hot plasma. It consists of 54 removable cassettes, each measuring 3.4m long, 1.2m wide and 0.6m thick and weighing 10 tonnes. The remote handling equipment will be used to manipulate and transport these cassettes, as they are replaced up to three times during operation.

The DRHS project has successfully completed the first three phases up to Preliminary Design Review in December 2018, and is now working towards Final Design Review around 2022, says Assystem.

Current work is “a mix of office based final and detailed design work, as well as workshop testing of tooling, cables and manipulator arms.”

The Assystem team is working closely with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and specialist suppliers in the European Union including Tamlink and Wa¨lischmiller GmbH. They have adapted quickly to the challenges of 2020, with Assystem and its supply chain adapting to work from home for the foreseeable future and to adapt the workshop testing for the new normal.

Expanding collaboration in China

In May, Assystem signed a cooperation agreement with the Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP) to provide support on the development of the China Fusion Energy Test Reactor (CFETR). CFETR is designed to bridge the fusion experiments ITER and DEMO.

Under the agreement, Assystem will provide support in the areas of nuclear safety regulation and licensing, commissioning and waste treatment for the CFETR and Comprehensive Research Facility for Fusion Technology (CRAFT) experiments and hot cells for the CFETR experiment, as well as for ITER.

UK developments

Last year, Assystem won a place in the UKAEA Engineering Design Services (EDS) Framework that coordinates their fusion research programme. As a supplier to the EDS Framework, Assystem will help drive the engineering work required to meet the UK’s ambition to develop commercial fusion power by 2040 through the various UKAEA research programmes, including Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE), and Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

In December, the UK government opened the siting portal STEP, calling on local communities across the country to put forward proposals to host the demonstration power plant. Communities have until the end of March 2021 to submit their nominations and will need to demonstrate that their local area has just the “right mix of social, commercial and technical conditions to host the new plant.”

Gallimore welcomed the launch of the siting process. “It’s exciting we’ve got this commitment that we’re going to get to a commercially viable power plant by 2040. Combined with investment of circa £400 million going towards fusion programmes it further enforces the trajectory we are on.”

It’s also exciting for local communities — particularly those in the north of England — where fossil fuel stations have been shut down, he adds. “With the right investment there are skills there which we could repurpose to support this programme going forward, as well as some of the infrastructure and brownfield sites.”

Matt Gallimore is chief sales officer at Assystem UK

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