Happy New 2021

ESS Director General, John Womersely
ESS Director General, John Womersely in the accelerator Gallery Building in 2019.

For ESS, the new year brings several important and exciting milestones in the construction of the world’s most powerful neutron source. We spoke to ESS Director General, John Womersley, who shared an update on the status quo of the ESS project, and what we can expect in 2021.

What will be the main milestones at ESS during 2021?

One of the key milestones at ESS during 2021 will be to begin accelerating the proton beam in the first part of the linear accelerator, what we call the ’normal conducting’ part, which uses conventional room-temperature accelerator components.  We’re installing temporary shielding and safety measures so that installation work can continue on the other parts of the accelerator while we do this.  For ESS staff, a major step forward will be to move out of the temporary offices we have been using for the past three years and into our purpose-built offices and laboratory buildings – ESS Campus. We’ll make important progress in installing the target during 2021 and, by the end of the year, our colleagues in Skanska will be completing all of the civil construction work at ESS. 

How did the ESS construction progress in 2020?

ESS construction progressed well during 2020.  We achieved some very significant milestones including the delivery and installation of the monolith vessel which will contain the neutron production target, the delivery of the first series production cryomodules for the linear accelerator, and the granting of the permit from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to start accelerating the proton beam.

How is the Covid19 pandemic affecting ESS and the construction?

The pandemic is affecting ESS just as it has all aspects of life over the past year. Our priority is to make sure all of our staff, contractors and visitors remain safe, while keeping the project moving forward as fast as possible.  Work in Sweden has continued through 2020, but deliveries from our partners in our member countries have been significantly impacted, with delays of between three and nine months being reported so far. 

What measures have been taken at ESS to minimise impact of the pandemic on the project?

We’ve undertaken risk assessments of all activities at ESS and introduced new ways of working to ensure everyone is as safe as possible.  All those who can work from home are doing so, while hands on work continues with extra safety measures in place. This has added complexity and time to certain tasks, and increased costs, but safety has always to be our first priority. This situation does increase the challenges for the project, and we are working hard to ensure our plans are aligned with the available budget.

A large part of ESS staff are currently working from home while others conduct installation tasks on site. What can you say about their work under these very special conditions?

It’s been a challenge, just as it has for the whole world.  But everyone at ESS has really pulled together to make these new ways of working a success, and the team spirit and commitment is really inspiring. As DG, I am proud of our staff and the engagement they show! I am looking forward to the next steps in this amazing project, knowing that will benefit the whole world.

Thirteen member countries, represented in the Council, have joined forces to build and operate ESS. How is their support for ESS?

The member countries fully recognise the extra challenges that we have faced this year, and are hugely supportive of the way that we have handled the Covid-19 situation while keeping progress on the project moving forward.

Why is continued construction progress so important – would it not be better to pause construction work during the pandemic?

ESS will deliver really critical research capabilities for Europe’s researchers.  Now, more than ever, we are reminded of the importance of access to such facilities, both to deal with unexpected challenges like Covid-19, to address the pressing needs for a lower carbon world, and to rebuild our economic competitiveness.  It is our responsibility to bring these new research capabilities into operation as soon as we can!

What are you personally looking forward to most of all at ESS this coming year?

I’m looking forward most to simply being able to have a normal workday once again; meeting and talking with all my colleagues, eating lunch together without needing any special distancing measures, and being able to look back on 2020 as something we all got through together!