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Pfeiffer Vacuum receives an important development contract for the ITER fusion reactor

Pfeiffer Vacuum has been awarded an important contract to develop special vacuum pumps for the ITER fusion reactor.

Pfeiffer Vacuum GmbH

  • Experiment: power from nuclear fusion
  • Major international research project
  • Developing new vacuum pumps essential for the fusion reactor

Asslar, October, 2013 -  With their bid, Pfeiffer Vacuum successfully managed to win out over well-known international competitors because of their extensive experience in the field of vacuum technology. This major international research project is a key step toward future fusion power plants which will produce clean sustainable electricity. The goal is to demonstrate that 500 megawatts of energy can be produced by the fusion of hydrogen atoms for an input of 50 megawatts. The sun and the stars are examples of fusion reactors.

ITER is a type of fusion reactor that has never been built to this size and complexity. The core of the reactor is an enormous chamber in the form of a torus, in which plasma is generated. In order to carry out the plasma reaction, it is necessary to evacuate this chamber. The fusion of heavy hydrogen atoms takes place in this plasma. Temperatures as high as several hundred million degrees Celsius are reached during this process. A magnetic field prevents elements from coming in contact with the walls of the reactor, which could disrupt the process. Pfeiffer Vacuum is developing a customized vacuum solution for these special requirements. The innovative vacuum pumps are designed from stainless steel and have an extremely high external leaktightness.

A new technology that has been used for the first time in vacuum pumps also prevents the contamination of pumps gear lubrication with the fusion fuel and vice versa. High powered (1 MeV) neutral particle injectors are planned to heat the plasma and these new vacuum pumps will also be used here to evacuate their chambers. The actual plasma in the torus is generated in a high vacuum while the external cryostat chamber contains the insulation vacuum and the cooling technology for the superconducting coils that are necessary for generating the magnetic field.

Additional Pfeiffer Vacuum products such as total pressure measurement instruments and leak detectors are also used for all the complex construction. Before the various chambers can be evacuated, the leak-tightness of welds and flange connections must be individually checked and ensured. Since the welds are at times difficult to access, portable leak detectors by Pfeiffer Vacuum are used.

The fusion reactor is being developed, built, and operated at the Cadarache research center in France. ITER is a joint research project of seven equal partners including China, the EU, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the USA.

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