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Monumental effort: How a dedicated team completed a massive beam-box relocation for the NSTX upgrade

Your task: Take apart, decontaminate, refurbish, relocate, reassemble, realign and reinstall a 75-ton neutral beam box that will add a second beam box to the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U) and double the experiment’s heating power. Oh, and while you’re at it, hoist the two-story tall box over a 22-foot wall.

Members of the “Beam Team” faced those challenges when moving the huge box from the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) cell to the NSTX-U cell. The task required all the savvy of the PPPL engineers and technicians who make up the veteran team. “They’re a tight-knit group that really knows what they’re doing,” said Mike Williams, director of engineering and infrastructure and associate director of PPPL and a former member of the team himself.

The second box is one of the two major components of the upgrade that will make NSTX-U the most powerful spherical tokamak fusion facility in the world when construction is completed early next year. The new center stack that serves as the other component will double the strength and duration of the magnetic field that controls the plasma that fuels fusion reactions.

The two new components will work together hand-in-glove. The stronger magnetic field will increase the confinement time for the plasma while the second beam box performs double-duty. Its beams will raise the temperature of the plasma and will help to maintain a current in the plasma to demonstrate that future tokamaks can operate in a continuous condition known as a “steady state.” The second box is “an absolutely crucial part of the upgrade,” said Masayuki Ono, project director for the NSTX-U.

Work began in 2009

Work on the second beam box began in 2009 when technicians clad in protective clothing dismantled and decontaminated the box as it sat in the TFTR test cell. While the box had used radioactive tritium to heat the plasma in TFTR, no tritium will be used in NSTX-U experiments.  

The decontamination took huge effort, said Tim Stevenson, who led the beam box project. Workers wearing protective garb used cloths, Windex and sprayers with deionized water to clean every part of the box by hand, and went over each part as many as 50 separate times. The cloths were then packaged and shipped to a Utah radiation-waste disposal site.

Next came the task of moving the beam box and its cleaned and refurbished components out of the TFTR area and into the NSTX-U test cell next door. But how do you get something so massive to budge?

The Beam Team solved the problem with air casters, said Ron Strykowsky, who heads the NSTX-U upgrade program. Using a ceiling crane, workers lifted the box onto the casters, which floated the load on a cushion of air just above the floor, enabling forklifts to tow it. Technicians then removed some hardware from the large doorway between the two test cells so the beam box could get through.  

The doorway led to a section of the NSTX-U area that is separated from the vacuum vessel by a 22-foot shield wall — a barrier too high for the box and its lid to clear when suspended by sling from a crane. Workers surmounted the problem by first lifting the box and then the lid, which had been removed during the decontamination process. The parts cleared the wall and sailed over the vacuum vessel before coming to rest on the test cell floor. The vessel itself was wrapped in plastic to prevent contamination from any tritium that might still be in the box and the lid as they swung by overhead.

“Like rebuilding a ship in a bottle”

The beam box was now ready to be reassembled and reinstalled. But carving out room for all the parts and equipment, including power supplies, cables, and cooling water pipes, proved difficult. “There were so many conflicting demands for space that it was like rebuilding a ship in a bottle,” Stevenson said, citing a remark originally made by engineer Larry Dudek, who heads the center stack upgrade project. “There was no existing footprint,” Stevenson said. “We had to make our own footprint.”

Technicians needed to cut a port into the vacuum vessel for the beam to pass through. But the supplier-built unit that connected the box to the vessel left too much space between the unit and this new port, requiring the Welding Shop to fill in the gap. “The Welding Shop saved the port,” Stevenson said.

Still another challenge called for ensuring that the beam would enter the plasma at precisely the angle that NSTX-U specifications required. Complicating this task was the test cell’s uneven floor, which meant that the position of the box also had to be adjusted. To align the beam, engineers used measurements to derive a bull’s-eye on the inside of the vessel; technicians then used laser technology to zero in on the target. The joint effort aligned the beam to within 80 thousands of an inch of the target.

Installing power supplies

Left to complete was installation of power supplies, a task accomplished earlier this year. The job called for bringing three orange high-voltage enclosures — the source of the power — up from a basement area and into the test cell through a hatch in the floor. Taken together, the two NSTX-U beam boxes will have the capacity to put up to 18 megawatts of power into the plasma, enough to briefly light some 20,000 homes.   

When asked to name the greatest challenge the project encountered, Stevenson replied, “The whole thing was fraught with challenges and difficulties. It was a monumental team effort that took a great deal of preparation. And when it was show-time, everyone showed up.”

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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