Recreating on Earth the same nuclear fusion reaction that occurs in the stars to release a safe, unlimited and environmentally friendly energy source - this is the dream that has been fascinating the scientific community since the 1960s. Today, this dream has every chance of becoming reality through the international project ITER, whose first buildings are gradually surfacing on the Cadarache site in the south of France. Under the management of the Engage consortium made up of four European partners including Egis, here’s a closer look at this extraordinary project.
Aim: demonstrate that it is possible to industrialise the nuclear fusion process successfully performed in lab conditions, thus opening up the way for a new type of nuclear reactor.
This project is the result of unprecedented international cooperation between China, South Korea, Japan, India, Russia, Europe and the USA, each of which provide part of its components. The European Agency F4E* has taken on the construction of the site which will hold the future experimental reactor. In 2010, it awarded the project’s programme management to the European consortium Engage (Egis, Assystem, Atkins and Empresarios Agrupados).
The contract comprises the construction of the nuclear complex, with the famous tokamak in which the nuclear fusion takes place, as well as of all the ancillary buildings: a cryogenic plant, electric power, a radioactive waste processing building, etc.
“Our missions cover design, procurement from contractors and works supervision all the way through to handover. For each of our assignments, we work as an integrated team and search out the best skills and competencies from within each of the different partners” explains Gilles Schartle, Project Director at Egis.
At present, 230 people from Engage are at work on the Cadarache site. These include around thirty Egis team members, working mainly in the field of project management, but also on design and on the supervision of the works schedule and construction. On occasion, the project additionally calls on Egis’s different subsidiaries for the design of complex structures or specific studies (lightning protection, underground utility networks, etc.).
Exceptional skills for an exceptional project
The design of the auxiliary buildings is almost finished, but the nuclear buildings are still at the detailed design stage.
“ITER’s 3D tokamak model is made up of millions of components. This machine measuring 30m across and 30m high weighs more than 30,000 tonnes, which is four times the weight of the Eiffel Tower! It will be subjected to extremely high pressure and temperatures, which generate particularly strenuous conditions on the materials and also on building structure. Not to mention that we also have to design and manage their construction, whereas the process itself hasn’t yet been fully established. This means that we have to be in direct contact with the process engineers to follow all of the latest developments and implement them progressively. With an organisation spread across all of the world’s time zones and about twenty different nationalities working on the project 24 hours a day, it’s true to say that the sun never sets on ITER!” adds Alain Baudry, integrator and deputy design manager at Egis.