Chinese-French TAC-1 (CNPE) consortium has won a contract for the sub-assembly of modules for the vacuum vessel of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction at Cadarache in southern France. The consortium includes China Nuclear Power Engineering (a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation – CNNC); China Nuclear Industry 23 Construction Company Ltd; Southwestern Institute of Physics; Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences ASIPP; and France’s Framatome.

The ITER vacuum vessel, with an interior volume of 1,400 cubic metres, will house the fusion reactions and will act as a first safety containment barrier. It will be formed from nine wedge-shaped steel sectors that measure more than 14 metres in height and weigh 440 tonnes. The ITER vacuum vessel, once assembled, will have an outer diameter of 19.4 metres, a height of 11.4 metres, and weigh approximately 5,200 tonnes. Following installation of in-vessel components such as the blanket and the divertor, the vacuum vessel will weigh 8,500 tonnes.

The vacuum vessel module is a three-layer sandwich structure, which consists of the vacuum vessel sector modules, a vacuum vessel thermal shield, and two toroidal field coils. The assembly work will include integrating and assembling the vacuum vessel thermal shield and the toroidal field coil onto the vacuum vessel sector module in the assembly hall, and then hoisting the whole component into the Tokamak pit. The nine sectors of the Vacuum Vessel module are completed and delivered separately, and the total schedule for the nine sector modules is 35 months.

Manufacture of the vacuum vessel sectors is distributed between the European Union (five sectors) and South Korea (four sectors). The No. 6 sector, located in the assembly centre, and related heat protection equipment have already been manufactured and delivered by the Korean National Agency. The first European sector, No. 5, has already been manufactured in Italy and is undergoing factory acceptance tests before being sent to the construction site.

The contract signing ceremony was attended by ITER Director-General Pietro Barabaschi; TAI Jiang, TAC-1 Project Leader; Catherine Cornand, Senior Vice President of Framatome; Sergio Orlandi, Head of the ITER Construction Project; SHEN Yanfeng, CNNC Vice President; LUO Delong, ITER Deputy Director-General; DONG Guangli, Chinese Consul General in Marseille; Jens Reich, Manager of the ITER Machine Assembly Programme; and Antoine Calmes, ITER Procurement Group Leader.

Shen Yanfeng said that the signing of the agreement means that the China-French consortium is the sole contractor for the installation of the Tokamak machine for the ITER project. Barabaschi said China has made significant contributions to ITER in terms of technology and human resources. CNNC has a strong team of highly-skilled construction team at the construction site.

China agreed to join ITER 2006 and since 2008 has fulfilled 18 contracts for the production and supply of equipment including maintenance equipment for magnets, power supply systems, smouldering discharge cleaning systems, gas injection system and "first wall" reactor core capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures. In September 2019, TAC-1 was established, marking the beginning of China's full participation in ITER. TAC-1’s tasks include the assembly of a cryostat and a heat screen of a cryostat, magnetic feeders, a central solenoid, magnets of a poloidal field and a correction coil, as well as cooling structures and instruments.

ITER is a first-of-a-kind global collaboration with construction funded mainly by the European Union (45.6%) with the remainder shared equally by China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA (9.1% each). However, in practice, the members deliver little monetary contribution to the project, instead providing ‘in-kind’ contributions of components, systems or buildings. The goal of ITER is to operate at 500 MW (for at least 400 seconds continuously) with 50 MW of plasma heating power input. It is not intended to generate electricity.

Construction began in 2010 and the original 2018 first plasma target date was put back to 2025 by the ITER council in 2016. In June last year, the ITER Organisation was expected to reveal a revised timeline for the project but instead put back by a year an announcement on an updated timeline. The revamped project plan for ITER – with modifications to its configuration, phased installation and new research schedule – is being finalised ahead of being submitted to the ITER Council in June.

Image: The signing ceremony – with ITER Director-General Barabaschi in the front row is Tai Jiang, TAC-1 Project Leader; and Catherine Cornand, Senior Vice President of Framatome. Back row is Sergio Orlandi, Head of the ITER Construction Project; Shen Yanfeng, Vice President of the China National Nuclear Corporation; Luo Delong, ITER Deputy Director-General; Dong Guangli, Chinese Consul General in Marseille; Jens Reich, Manager of the ITER Machine Assembly Program; and Antoine Calmes, ITER Procurement Group Leader (courtesy of ITER)