Laboratory’s giant rotor headed for Switzerland

Sailed from Japan to Belgium, now on to Switzerland

July 24, 2023


What’s 69 feet long, weighs 230 tons and took a slow boat from Japan to Switzerland — final destination Los Alamos? If you guessed a giant rotor that runs a pulse generator, you’d be right!

This massive, copper-wound steel rotor, which recently made it to Antwerp, Belgium, is the central portion of the Lab’s pulse generator at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

Upon its return to Los Alamos, the rotor will be a fixture once again at the MagLab’s Pulsed Field Facility, which operates an international user program for research in high magnetic fields. The facility boasts pulsed magnets and experimental capabilities that are unique in the world and produce cutting-edge science for guest users.

In April 2019, after the pulse generator had been operational for approximately 28 years in part of the MagLab that was built around it, the rotor failed due to a cracked and shorted winding turn. During disassembly and investigation at an original equipment manufacturer workshop in Virginia, the steel body of the rotor was found to be unsuitable for reuse and required replacement.

A new rotor was made at the Japan Steel Works in Muroran, Hokkaidō, Japan. General Electric is under contract to design, manufacture, transport and install the rotor for the Lab.

Mechanical subject matter expert Josiah Srock and MagLab Facilities Manager Hazuki Teshima (both of MPA-MAGLAB) went to the Japan Steel Works foundry to inspect the rotor in April.

A big milestone achieved, others slated for 2024

In April 2023, the newly forged rotor left the foundry in Japan for final machining and manufacturing at a GE facility in Birr, Switzerland. This includes adding the copper windings and balancing the rotor at high speed.

It’s slated to leave Switzerland in summer 2024 for the Port of Houston. It will travel by train to Clovis, New Mexico, and then by truck to Los Alamos.

After installation and commissioning in the MagLab, the rotor and generator will be back to making cool science in early 2025.

MagLab team with the pulse generator, left to right: Clifford Trujillo (CM-CORE), construction manager; John Bordelon (STR), subcontract technical representative; Russ Milam (PEO), project manager; Josiah Srock (MPA-MAGLAB), mechanical subject matter expert; Ross McDonald (MPA-MAGLAB), Pulse Field Facility director; Kevin Arceneaux (OSH-DS), health, safety and environment representative; Bill Tils (STR), subcontract technical representative; Raeanne Clabeaux (ES-SPD), project engineer; Ashish Bhardwaj (MPA-MAGLAB), electrical subject matter expert.

Not its first road trip

The original rotor was built in Switzerland and designed for a nuclear power plant project with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The power plant project was halted and the rotor slated for scrap when Los Alamos acquired it.

The rotor traveled to New Mexico by barge and locomotive, and it was trucked up the hill to the Laboratory in 1989 for use in early fusion energy experiments. Check out a historic video of the rotor's initial trip to Los Alamos.

This is a unique national asset and major piece of infrastructure requiring a dedicated 12,000-square-foot building. Originally designed to provide 1430 megavolts ampere (approximately 1.4 billion watts) continuously to the power grid, the generator now supports the Lab's basic research and mission science by delivering very large bursts of electrical energy (currently up to 560 million watts of power and 630 million joules of energy) in a short time (about one second) to physics and materials science experiments — safely, in a controlled and repeatable fashion.