Monday, April 26, 2021

News: CHIMERA makes Rotherham research facility unique


The construction of a unique testing machine for fusion components is underway in Rotherham.

The £22m Fusion Technology Facility being built on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) will enable the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to work with industrial partners to put the UK in a strong position to commercialise nuclear fusion as a major source of low-carbon electricity in the years ahead.

At the heart of the research is a machine known as CHIMERA (Combined Heating and Magnetic Research Apparatus) which is designed to address the specific engineering challenges associated with fusion and validate complex, bespoke and high-risk manufacturing.

When it opens in 2022, CHIMERA will be the only device in the world able to subject critical fusion component prototypes to the combination of high heat flux with static and pulsed magnetic fields within a vacuum or inert atmosphere – an environment representative of a fusion power plant.

Key fusion in-vessel components like the blanket, divertor and diagnostic modules are expected to be tested.

Optical Digital Image Correlation and laser metrology will be used to map 3D surface deformations and damage due to the harsh testing environment. In addition to providing invaluable test results, these and other techniques will be used to generate and synchronise component digital twins – predictive models and simulations that will be crucial to the design and qualification of future fusion power plants. This ‘virtual qualification’ is a key strand of CHIMERA’s capability and will enable virtual testing of components under conditions that cannot be recreated in an experiment.

Damon Johnstone, UKAEA’s Head of Operations, Fusion Technology Business Unit and Head of the Fusion Technology Facility, said: "CHIMERA is a unique world-first facility in which we will be able to simulate the extreme conditions found within a fusion power plant, but without any nuclear reactions taking place.

"This will enable a step change in our ability to verify and test components for all UK and international fusion research programmes. It therefore represents a hugely important national capability, enabling industry in the UK and internationally to design, and eventually qualify, components for future commercial fusion power plants."

Among the key components engineers want to test durability of are the vessel blankets. These cover the inner wall of the tokamak vacuum vessel (a device inside the reactor designed to harness the energy of fusion) in order to intercept high energy neutrons, protecting the vessel structure, breeding tritium fuel (by nuclear reactions with lithium) and enabling the extraction of fusion power for electricity generation.

The underlying technology remains relatively untested. CHIMERA will not simulate fusion neutron irradiation, nor will it test irradiated components, but by performing "semi-integral" testing in CHIMERA in parallel with advanced numerical simulation and digital twinning, the hope is to accelerate qualification of designs for fusion.

The site will help UK companies win contracts from the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) programme – the key international fusion project being built in the south of France.

A £14.3m contract for the design and construction of CHIMERA has been agreed between UKAEA and global professional services firm, Jacobs.

UKAEA website

Images: UKAEA


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