Construction of new fusion facility begins in Spain

12 October 2023

Construction has started on the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility-Demo Oriented NEutron Source (IFMIF-DONES) project in Granada, Spain. The facility will test materials for use in future fusion power reactors. Spain and Croatia are project leaders, with Spain funding 50% of all construction costs and 10% of operating costs, and Croatia responsible for 5% of each.

The deuterium-tritium fusion reactions which will take place in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), under construction in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France and the Demonstration Power Plants (DEMOs) that are planned subsequently, cause material degradation through transmutation.

In order to build DEMOs out of materials that can withstand such harsh bombardment, developers are looking to neutron sources as a way to mimic fusion conditions for materials testing.

The IFMIF-DONES project will simulate DEMO-like conditions for potential structural materials. IFMIF-DONES will use a particle accelerator to produce a continuous-wave deuteron (D+) beam aimed at a target made of a liquid lithium curtain. The interaction between deuterium and lithium will generate enough free neutrons to simulate the planned neutron flux over time of Europe's DEMO, which is being designed by the DEMO Central Team at EUROfusion. Directly behind the lithium target will be the high-flux test module, which will house capsules of material samples for neutron irradiance testing.

"A key use of the IFMIF-DONES facility will be the testing of EUROFER, the reduced activation steel alloy currently intended to serve as DEMO's first wall structural material," explains facility director Angel Ibarra. "It is important to do these experiments in a fusion-like environment as soon as possible to validate this material for Europe's DEMO. We'll be testing hundreds of samples of EUROFER and EUROFER-like alloys under varying conditions of neutron and heat flux to gain a fuller understanding of its mechanical properties." IFMIF-DONES will build a database of relevant materials over time.

IFMIF-DONES is the culmination of more than a decade of preparatory work carried out under the IFMIF-EVEDA (Engineering Design & Engineering Validation Activities) project, a joint Europe-Japan collaboration agreement designed to complement the ITER Project in overall fusion development. IFMIF-EVEDA aims to provide proof-of-concept for the IFMIF-DONES project.

After engineering design was completed in 2013, three prototype facilities were constructed, each tasked with validating one of the three key components of IFMIF-DONES. The Test Facility, in Karlsruhe, Germany, tests concepts for IFMIF-DONES's high-flux test module. The Lithium Target Facility, in Oarai, Japan, tests concepts for IFMIF-DONES's lithium liquid curtain. The Accelerator Facility, in Rokkasho, Japan, tests concepts for IFMIF-DONES's deuteron beam particle accelerator. Phase one of validation activities was completed in March 2020. Operations in IFMIF-EVEDA's phase two will continue concurrently with the construction phase of IFMIF-DONES.

ITER, which is facing delays due to technical problems with no date for first plasma yet decided, is intended to provide information for the DEMO machine by providing a proof of concept for burning plasmas with fusion energy gain in a tokamak. IFMIF-DONES will provide information on the materials DEMO should use.

Areas for collaboration include knowledge management and technology. "Both success stories and lessons learned from the ITER Project's last 15 years can help optimise IFMIF-DONES operations as the facility enters its construction phase," explains Ibarra. He added: “Some technologies already developed for ITER will also be needed in our project, and perhaps the development process can be streamlined." Once IFMIF-DONES is operational, it would also be willing to assist ITER's plasma operations by testing ITER materials under a full neutron spectrum, he noted.

Spain’s acting Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has highlighted the opportunity for Spain and Andalusia that arise from hosting the IFMIF-DONES particle accelerator. The construction of IFMIF-DONES is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Roadmap for obtaining electricity from fusion energy. During a visit to the IFMIF-DONES exhibition at the Science Park in Granada, Sánchez said the development of the project would generate revenue of more than €6bn and create 54,000 jobs a year in Spain.

The central government participates in the financing and, with the Andalusian Regional Government, is part of the IFMIF-DONES Spain Consortium, whose objective is to contribute to the European Fusion Programme, a safe, sustainable and highly productive energy source.

Image: Artist's impression of the completed fusion facility in Granada, Spain

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