Davy Markham, Metalcraft and AMEC bid for ITER reactor vessel contract

27 March 2009

UK companies have formed a consortium to bid for construction of the main reactor vacuum vessel of the Euro 5 Bn ITER (International Tokamak Experimental Reactor) nuclear fusion reactor being built in Cadarache, France. The consortium, led by Davy Markham, a specialist in fabrication and machining of large structures, and precision fabricator Metalcraft, and the engineering consultancy AMEC. The Welding Institute has offered to provide specialist support that will be needed during the construction of the Vacuum Vessel segments.

One of the world’s largest international co-operative research and development projects, ITER will demonstrate the integrated physics and engineering needed for a fusion power station and is expected to produce 500 MW of power. It will be at least twice the linear dimensions and 16 times the mass of the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor vessel, currently the world's largest fusion reactor, in Oxfordshire.

Europe and Korea are building the ITER vacuum vessel. Made up of nine, D-shaped cross section, vacuum vessel sectors, each weighing about 450 tons, its external diameter will measure 19.4 m, the internal 6.5 m. Once assembled, the whole structure will be 11.3 m high. Fabrication tolerances for the whole vessel including field assembly are expected to be less than 20 mm for height and width. When all the vacuum vessel's shielding and port structures are included, it will weigh in excess of 5000 tonne.

Europe is providing seven vacuum vessel sectors and the remaining two supplied by Korea. Contracts for the ITER vacuum vessel are likely to be placed during 2009 / 2010.

UK Consortium

Kevin Parkin, managing director, Davy Markham, explained the background to the consortium. “Fusion represents an exciting business opportunity both for ourselves and the rest of UK engineering” he said. “The ITER Vacuum Vessel is a significant engineering challenge that no one company is able to supply. We've put the consortium together with fabrication specialist Metalcraft, AMEC providing design and programme management services and The Welding Institute technical support, to enable us to present a solid technical and commercial case as the supplier of ITER Vacuum Vessel sectors.”

Davy Markham and Metalcraft have worked together previously on projects at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. As well as fabricating complex parts of magnetic resonance imaging machines for the world's leading OEM's, Metalcraft has significant experience of manufacturing vacuum and ultra-high vacuum vessels for big science projects including the CERN Large Hadron Collider.

The key technical challenges will be the need to meet the demanding accuracies involved in assembling the vessels, and minimising metal shrinkage necessitating the need to deploy electron beam welding. Peter Kenny, Managing Director, Metalcraft, is confident of the consortium's ability to overcome any materials related issues: “Our colleagues at The Welding Institute have significant experience of electron beam welding techniques which will be invaluable in ensuring the consortium addresses many of ITER's technical concerns”.

Dan Mistry, UKAEA's Fusion and Industry Manager, is responsible for encouraging UK companies to supply to the ITER project. ” ITER is a challenging project that presents many business opportunities for UK companies I would like to encourage companies, especially those with heavy/medium engineering capabilities which feel they have relevant skills and experience, to get involved with ITER and contact me."

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