The CHIMERA component test machine is a key part of the Fusion Technology Facilities under construction at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire.

A major contract for the design and construction of CHIMERA has been agreed between UKAEA (Culham Centre for Fusion Energy’s operator) and global professional services firm Jacobs.

CHIMERA concept design (courtesy of Jacobs)

CHIMERA concept design (courtesy of Jacobs)

Developing engineering designs of critical fusion core components – in order to survive extreme temperature, heat flux and magnetic field conditions – is crucial on the path to the ITER experiment and to prototype power reactors like STEP and DEMO. This will require substantial testing of components in similar conditions. Designing components to survive under these conditions is one of the key technological challenges engineers face in making nuclear fusion commercially viable. In addition, manufactured components or systems may require some form of qualification to ensure they meet requirements and perform as designed. The new CHIMERA (Combined Heating and Magnetic Research Apparatus) facility is being constructed to address these needs. Engineers describe CHIMERA as a “unique component loading machine”, and it will enable testing of large component prototypes up to 1.8m tall.

The Fusion Technology Facilities (FTF) , which began as a project in late 2017, considers the full development cycle from materials technology, to advanced manufacturing and joining, to component testing. FTF is establishing a centre at the UKAEA Yorkshire site at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, and this will be the home to the CHIMERA facility.

A truly unique facility

Now the construction of the CHIMERA device is a step closer after the signing of a £14.3M contract for design and build – a project that will require skilled engineers and will boost UK industry.

Tom Barrett, CHIMERA Technical Lead, said: “We’re very pleased and excited to welcome Jacobs as our system integrator, they have a tremendous team who have already done impressive work and I have no doubt that they will successfully deliver a world-class testing facility. In CHIMERA we are building a truly unique facility which will benefit the UK but also promises to boost worldwide efforts for fusion technology.”

UKAEA and Jacobs representatives mark CHIMERA contract

UKAEA and Jacobs representatives mark CHIMERA contract

In ITER, STEP, and DEMO, in-vessel components are required to function within a unique and extreme environment. Among the key components engineers want to test durability of are the vessel blankets. These cover the inner wall of the tokamak vacuum vessel 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. These blankets are therefore required for a fusion power reactor, but 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.

Once constructed the initial test conditions offered in CHIMERA will be:

  • Test module heating: 0.5 megawatts/m2 over the module surface and 100 kilowatts available for internal heating
  • Magnets: up to 4 Tesla horizontal field with high spatial gradients, combined with rapidly pulsed vertical 0.5 Tesla field to simulate a plasma disruption
  • Test module water cooling: up to “PWR” conditions, 155 bar and 330°
  • Testing under vacuum to 10-5
  • Test module maximum volume: 0.5m x 1.8m x 1m

Damon Johnstone, Head of UKAEA Yorkshire, said: “This is a huge milestone for Fusion Technology and represents the sustained efforts of the Jacobs and UKAEA team to make this ground-breaking capability a reality. The collaborative approach adopted is exemplary – we have the foundations of a high performing project. We are moving forward with pace and I have full confidence we have the team to deliver.”

FTF, UKAEA Yorkshire and the CHIMERA machine are planned to come online in February 2022.

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