1/2009

Fusion: clean energy for the future

Rovir

The full-scale research environment for the maintenance robot
of the European fusion project was taken into use in early 2009.
The environment is part of TUT's and VTT's international
Remote Operation and Virtual Reality Centre (ROViR).

TUT and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are involved in a project to turn fusion into a viable energy source for the future. The truck-sized test environment for the maintenance system of the ITER fusion reactor is located in Tampere. 

One of the world's most challenging fusion energy projects is the global ITER test power plant. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear fusion as an energy source.

Construction work on the 500 megawatt test power plant has already begun in Cadarche in the south of France. The construction costs of ITER are estimated at over 5 milliard euros over the next ten years, of which EU will contribute 45 percent.

Finland is closely involved in the project. TUT and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are in charge of developing a remote maintenance system for the critical parts of the fusion power plant.

Heavy demands

The ITER project imposes heavy demands on the new technology used to control a process during which the temperature of the fusion reactor plasma can reach 100 million Celsius.

"For TUT this is a challenging long-term R&D project with, for example, notably stricter reliability and safety requirements for machine automation than average industrial applications", says Research Manager Jouni Mattila from TUT.

Clean source of energy

Because fusion does not produce greenhouse emissions or any long-lived radioactive waste it is a clean source of energy. Fusion energy is also safe, as there is no risk of critical safety events, e.g. meltdown.

The fuel resources are abundant and there is no geographical localisation. For example, 10 g of deuterium (from 500 litres of water) and 15 g of tritium produces enough fuel for the lifetime electricity needs of an average person in an industrialised country.

Nuclear fusion is the process by which tritium and deuterium atoms fuse together to produce helium, thereby releasing neutrons and an enormous amount of energy. The same reaction occurs naturally in the sun.

Maintenance system developed in Tampere

A development and test laboratory for the ITER remote maintenance systems, DTP2, was launched in Hervanta, Tampere, in early 2009.

" DTP2 is a full-scale model of the bottom of the fusion reactor, the so-called Divertor", says manager of the DTP2 project, Senior Researcher Mikko Siuko from VTT.

"At the moment, the project employs three senior researchers, five postgraduate students and around 10 students".

TUT has been involved in ITER since 1994, when the University conducted basic research related to water hydraulics within the framework of the project. On account of successful previous collaboration and TUT's internationally recognised competence in the fields of hydraulics and automation the development work is continuing with DTP2.

Applications for Finnish industry

The results of the product development efforts will also be applicable to various industrial fields. The objective is to transfer the attained knowledge on, among others, virtual technology, water hydraulics and robotics to commercial application as effectively as possible.

 

Text: Tuuli Laukkanen
Photo: Petri Laitinen

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