In mid-January, UKAEA’s RACE embarked on a three-year programme of installation activities at the European Spallation Source (ESS), which is being built on the outskirts of Lund in southern Sweden. ESS will be the world’s brightest neutron source with multiple beamlines providing scientists and engineers with the opportunity to conduct ground-breaking materials research on an atomic scale.
The UK is providing in-kind contributions towards the €2bn construction cost of ESS. This includes equipment procurement and installation programmes, led by RACE, for the facility’s cavernous Active Cells, in which components that have become irradiated in the spallation process will be safely reduced in size, sorted, stored and packaged for road transport. Similarities between the requirements of the ESS Active Cells and the hot-cells of future fusion plants presents UKAEA with an opportunity to further develop the capabilities required to design and build such facilities.
A set of 30m long crane rails, which will form the foundation of the Robotic Handling System, are currently being installed by a specialist team including RACE site managers and subcontractors from James Fisher Nuclear, SCX Special Projects and Rapid Rail. The tightest positional tolerances are required to ensure that two robotic arms and a 25t capacity, remotely operated crane can be accurately positioned. These will be installed at a later date and used to enable maintenance of equipment and transportation of radioactive material without the need for humans to enter the Active Cell.
In addition to the Robotic Handling System, RACE is responsible for the provision of equipment for ESS that includes:
- Safety critical shielding, confinement doors and barriers weighing over 500t
- Remotely operated size reduction equipment including a wire saw with a 7m long bed and a machining centre for complex cuts
- Numerous stillages and tools
- Electrical infrastructure
- Operational control systems
- Machinery safety systems
- A SIL rated radiological safety (interlock) system
The Active Cells are the heart of a bustling construction site and installation has required careful logistical planning; any delays could impact the overall ESS critical path. The RACE led team has been able to transport all equipment into the cells and has started alignment of the rails. This meant that the access hatch in the Active Cells ceiling could be closed a full day ahead of schedule, allowing others to continue the next stage of construction as planned.
Whilst installation accuracy is key and time is of the essence, site safety is paramount. Installation activities require working at height, lifting/skating of heavy loads and hot works. Careful risk assessment and mitigation were prerequisites to gaining access to site and our team continues to proactively manage site safety. Installation of the rails is on track to be completed in early February. The next phase, putting in the electrical distribution infrastructure and cable harnesses, will commence this summer.