China launches tritium breeding blanket project for Iter

18 March 2021

The first project of China’s Helium-Cooled Ceramic Breeder Test Blanket System (HCCB TBS) for the International Thermonuclear Fusion Experimental Reactor (Iter), under construction in France, was launched on 15 March at Southwest Institute of Physics (Nuclear Institute of Science and Technology - NIST) in Chengdu, Sichuan province. NIST is part of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). This signals the beginning of China's implementation phase of tritium breeding technology in Iter.

A tritium breeding blanket is a core component for future fusion reactors to realise tritium breeding self-sufficiency and electricity generation, CNNC said. The Iter Test Blanket Modules (TBMs) programme aims to carry out tritium breeding blanket technology verification in the real fusion reactor environment provided by ITER. Tritium production technology is one of the key technical problems that need to be solved urgently for future fusion reactors, CNNC noted .The HCCB TBS system is a vital part of China's participation in Iter.

NIST has led the completion of the preliminary pre-development and design of the system, and is responsible for the engineering design and system R&D and testing tasks assigned by China. The work is overseen by the China International Nuclear Fusion Energy Programme Execution Centre (Iter’s China Domestic Agency) with support from the Ministry of Science and Technology. NIST, in collaboration with all other participants, has overcome various manufacturing difficulties throughout more than a decade of design and R&D, CNNC said. It has verified, through internationally advanced technology, the feasibility of the Iter test blanket system proposed by China, and cultivated an innovative research team with international vision. NIST has also has established a nuclear safety and quality guarantee system that meets the requirements of Iter, and has formulated a detailed implementation plan.

CNNC said the signing of the contract and the successful delivery of the launch will further advance the design and development of the project's system integration and test blankets, laying a solid foundation for future manufacturing and delivery, as well as testing and operation in Iter.

China joined the Iter project in 2003 and has actively participated in the Iter test blanket programme, proposing and developing the concept of HCCB TBS. In 2014, Iter’s China Domestic Agency signed a contract with the Iter Organisation for China to independently design and manufacture HCCB TBS and conduct experimental tests in Iter.

Construction of the Iter reactor at Cadarache in France is 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). Iter is on schedule to begin first plasma operations in 2025.

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