CEA Cadarache, the largest energy research centre in Europe, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, have been central to many leading nuclear engineering research efforts for several decades. Located close to the village of Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France, their facilities (both existing and under construction) are designed to provide a range of prototypical fission and fusion reactor conditions to enable the design of improved reactor technologies.
From Tuesday, 9th May 2023 to Friday, 12th May 2023, the third cohort of the Nuclear Energy Futures (NEF) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT), including PhD students from Bangor University (Harvey Plows and Conor Buchanan and Sarah Vallely), converged at Heathrow Airport to fly to Marseille to begin a short tour of CEA Cadarache and the ITER project construction site. After a day of travel, we began our visit on Wednesday morning by taking a coach to CEA Cadarache, here we split into groups to visit two facilities. One group began by visiting the construction site of the Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR), while the other toured CEA’s PLINIUS (PLatform for Improvements in Nuclear Industry and Utility Safety) facility.
Supporting up to 20 experiments simultaneously, JHR is a highly modular research reactor designed to test the performance of nuclear fuels, materials and instrumentation under reactor irradiation conditions. JHR will also be utilised for the production of medical isotopes, an important utility given the global decline in medical isotope producing reactors. Unlike JHR, the PLINIUS facility is currently in operation, and is designed to study the material properties and flow behaviour of corium. This is a material that can form during a core meltdown when various components melt together to create a molten composite substance, capable of damaging a reactor’s pressure vessels and containment structures. Our tours of both facilities proved extremely insightful, and were thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended.
On Friday, following a day exploring the picturesque city of Aix-en-Provence, cohort three travelled to the ITER construction site to learn about the progress made in this fascinating project. Here we saw the extent of the ongoing manufacturing and assembly efforts – including seeing the reactor’s toroidal field magnets, pressure vessel, heat exchangers and tokamak complex. After this we travelled back to Marseille Airport, but before our flight back, we had the opportunity to take a bus to Marseille’s harbour to enjoy lunch with a view of its historic port. Finally, we took our afternoon flight to Heathrow and began our long drive back to Bangor.
Thank you to Dr Jonathan Tate and Dr Marat Margulis for organising a fantastic and educational visit.