Sunderland engineers work on project to create 'second sun'

DRHS with Divertor cassette being handled remotely through vessel port
DRHS with Divertor cassette being handled remotely through vessel port

Engineers in Sunderland are helping to create a revolutionary new limitless energy source.

The world’s largest fusion machine ITER is being designed with help from Assystem’s engineers in Sunderland.

A rail mounted remotely operated machine for handling the Divertor cassettes, currently planned to be delivered to ITER for 2024; the first completed sub-system of DRHS

A rail mounted remotely operated machine for handling the Divertor cassettes, currently planned to be delivered to ITER for 2024; the first completed sub-system of DRHS

Fusion is the process that powers the sun and scientists believe that if they replicate the same reaction on Earth, it could provide an unlimited source of clean energy.

As electricity demand increases, the need for a sustainable zero carbon energy source is urgent which is why nations like China, Europe, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA are collaborating to explore the potential of fusion energy.

Together they represent half of the world’s population and 80% of the global GDP. The UK involvement is channelled through the EU organisation, Fusion for Energy (F4E), managing Europe’s contribution to ITER.

The hot gas resulting from the fusion reaction, known as plasma, is expected to reach 150,000,000 °C, ten times the temperature in core of the sun

Fanny Fouin

Fanny Fouin

Impurities found in the plasma can disrupt the reaction needed to create energy, so 54 cassettes, which form the ITER divertor, are situated in the lower part of the machine to collect this waste.

Due to their exposure to harsh conditions during the fusion reaction and the impurities collected, they need to be replaced periodically.

The Sunderland team has been contracted by F4E to create the divertor remote handling system (DRHS), a robotic equipment that can remove components and impurities from the Tokamak, the chamber where the fusion experiment takes place.

The DRHS is robotic equipment that can safely enter the machine and remove the cassettes of the divertor.

Nuclear engineers in Sunderland are collaborating with other experts around the world, such as the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Tampere University of Technology and RACE (UK Atomic Energy Authority) to get the knowledge they need to build this robotic equipment that will be a ‘first of a kind’.

Fanny Fouin, Senior Mechanical Engineer at Assystem said: “In our offices overlooking the Wear, our focus is on creating robotic equipment that can operate in such harsh environment e.g. high temperatures and very high level of radiation in the world’s largest fusion experiment.

"ITER will be the world’s biggest experiment on the path to fusion energy and it will help us to develop fusion reactors putting an end to our excessive reliance on fossil fuels."

Assystem, the third largest nuclear engineering firm in the world, has five offices in the UK, employing hundreds of staff, including more than 40 in Sunderland.

Thirty-five countries are involved in the design and build of the first of a kind experiment. The first big ITER tests are planned for 2025 and specialists predict that that it will take 30-40 years to see fusion on the commercial scale.

As well as designing the robotic equipment, Assystem is responsible for the construction management at ITER, overseeing the installation of ITER components from all over the world.