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The ITER Council in the new assembly room at the Château de Cadarache this week.
Since the 1450s, when the Honoré de Berre invited his friends to hunt deer and wild boar on his property along the banks of the Durance River, the Château de Cadarache has witnessed many historical events. And when one day the chroniclers sharpen their pencils to write the history of the ITER Project, these medieval walls will certainly be mentioned as having set the background for many of the project's decisive meetings. This week, the Château once again turned into the stage for the ITER Project as the ITER Council, the governing body of the ITER Organization, convened for its fifth meeting since the inauguration of the project in 2007.

The meeting opened on Wednesday 18 November with a written address from Valérie Pécresse, the French Minister for Research and Higher Education, and Pierre Lellouche, the French State Secretary for European Affairs. The address, delivered by the General Administrator of the French Nuclear Energy Agency (CEA), Bernard Bigot, was intended to reaffirm the strong support of the European Union, France, and President Nicolas Sarkozy "... at [a] time when difficult programmatic and budgetary decisions are on the horizon." The address also stated: "...The most recent project reviews have in effect revealed cost increases and the necessity of carefully taking into account possible technical unknowns. This is not surprising for a project of this scale, and must in no way be an obstacle to its development and its success in the long term. ITER, as we all know, is one of the most ambitious worldwide scientific programs of all times. Its success in demonstrating controlled nuclear fusion over the next decades could well change for the better the way we all live on Earth, and allow future generations to benefit from an abundant and nearly inexhaustible form of energy that is respectful of our planet. What is at stake could affect every single person living on Earth, at a time when the world is preparing the Copenhagen Summit on climate change."

Following this address, Council Chairman Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith opened the meeting by asking the delegates "... to step back and look at what we are doing here." When fossil fuels run out, there will be a big gap in energy resources. "Fusion is a gamble worth taking," he said, quoting a recent article on ITER in the British magazine New Scientist. "With ITER, we have come a long way from negotiation to confrontation, to collaboration. And we know that fusion is possible. Future generations will curse us if we do not try. And ITER is vital for fusion. Therefore we must build ITER as soon as possible."

For Llewellyn Smith it was the last meeting as Council Chairman. It was also the end of the ITER Agreement-mandated term of office for Bob Iotti, Chairman of the ITER Council Management Advisory Committee (MAC), and Predhiman Kaw, Chairman of the ITER Council Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). "I would like to underline the outstanding work that has been done by the Chairs," said Director-General Kaname Ikeda on behalf of the ITER Organization. "Their devotion to ITER and their skills in bringing differing points of view into common agreement have laid the foundation for a strong and balanced project."

Former Vice-Chair Evgeny Velikhov from the Russian Federation was elected as new Chairman of the ITER Council. Velikhov is one of the masterminds behind the ITER Project, and has been President of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow since 1992. Yuanxi Wan from China, also referred to as the father of the EAST tokamak, was appointed Chair of STAC, and Gyung Su Lee, President of the National Fusion Research Institute of Korea, was appointed Chair of MAC.

For further information on the Council's decisions, please read the Press Releases below ...

Click here to read the press release in English

Click here to read the press release in French

Read the address by Valérie Pecresse & Pierre Lellouche (in English)

Read the address by Valérie Pecresse & Pierre Lellouche (in French)

A new milestone for the project and a happy "family" celebrating it: Director-General Kaname Ikeda after the signature of the Procurement Arrangement for the ITER vacuum vessel with Didier Gambier, Director of the European Domestic Agency.
Relief and joy were in the air on Thursday when the ITER Organization and the European Domestic Agency signed the Procurement Arrangement for the supply of seven of the nine sectors of the ITER vacuum vessel. The vacuum vessel is the double-walled steel container in the very centre of the ITER machine in which the plasma is contained by a magnetic field.

The Procurement Arrangement was signed by the Director-General of the ITER Organization, Kaname Ikeda, and the Director General of the European Domestic Agency, Didier Gambier. The total value of this Procurement Arrangement—the twenty-ninth that the ITER Organization has signed—is approximately EUR 150 million.

"The signature of the ITER vacuum vessel today marks a new milestone for the project and for Europe, which is responsible for the major share of this procurement," Gambier said after the signing. "This is also a big step ahead for the Europen Domestic Agency and it underlines, here again, that Europe is ready, that we are building!"

The other two sectors of the vacuum vessel will be provided by the Korean Domestic Agency as set out in the procurement sharing for the vacuum vessel. Korea signed its share of vacuum vessel procurement on 19 November 2008, exactly one year before.

The ITER vacuum vessel will be the biggest fusion furnace ever built. It will be twice as large and 16 times as heavy as any previously-manufactured fusion vessel: each of the nine torus-shaped sectors will weigh about 450 tonnes. With shielding and port structures added, it will reach 5,116 tonnes, with an external diametre of 19.4 metres (internal diameter: 6.5 m). Once assembled, the whole structure will be 11.3 metres high.

The primary function of the vacuum vessel is to provide a hermetically-sealed plasma container. Its main components are the main vessel, the port structures and the supporting system. The main vessel is a double-walled structure with poloidal and toroidal stiffening ribs between 60 mm thick shells that reinforce the vessel structure. These ribs also form the flow passages for the cooling water. The space between the double walls will be filled with shield structures made of corrosion-resistant austenitic stainless steel.

The inner surfaces of the vessel will be covered with a blanket to provide shielding from the high-energy neutrons produced by the fusion reactions. A certain number of these will also be used for tritium breeding concepts.

Guenter Mank is the Section Head of the IAEA Physics Division and official observer to the ITER Council.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been closely involved with ITER since its inception, as the previous ITER cooperation phases and the ITER negotiations were held under its auspices. The IAEA Director-General is also the Depository of the ITER Agreement. In October 2008, the IAEA and ITER signed an agreement to enhance fusion research and the exchange of information. We asked Guenter Mank, the Section Head of the IAEA Physics Division, about his role as official observer to the ITER Council meetings.

What is the role of the IAEA in the ITER Project?

The IAEA fills several roles within ITER and the global fusion endeavour. For instance, we have the responsibility to support ITER towards the establishment of a working fusion facility. The IAEA is uniquely situated with 150 member states that are all interested in nuclear technology. Some are especially interested in using safe nuclear energy; and fusion energy is a very safe nuclear energy. This is essential for the IAEA. The signature of the ITER/IAEA Agreement in 2008 marked a milestone, and action is already happening. We provide ITER with an opportunity to speak in our meetings, and we have special sessions at the annual Fusion Energy Conference. Beyond that, we offer ITER the possibility to speak about additional scientific aspects of fusion which are not directly related to the ITER Project, but which are interesting also.

The IAEA benefits from this Agreement too, because our member states are greatly interested in the latest developments in fusion and nuclear technology. Fifty of our 150 members are very much interested in fusion and plasma physics. Special topics such as materials research can also be of great interest for the development of the next generation of fission power plants. Another topic where the IAEA can be supportive to fusion is in the area of existing knowledge within the IAEA related to safety and security issues of nuclear power plants. Of course, ITER is not a power plant, but the next step will be a power plant and the IAEA will certainly have an essential role to play in this next step.

You participated in this fifth ITER Council meeting as "observer". How would you describe your role?

Within the ITER/IAEA Agreement, the exchange of information is essential. This exchange can be done for example through the invitation of an observer to the International Fusion Research Council, where the ITER Director-General, Mr. Ikeda, regularly reports about the latest ITER activities. Another example is when an ITER observer attends the annual General Assembly of the IAEA. The participation of the IAEA in the ITER Council helps to ensure that our Member States are informed about the latest developments.

You mentioned that amongst the 150 member states, about 50 share particular interest in fusion technology?

Interest in nuclear power is certainly increasing. The fact that fusion can and will have some role to play in future energy scenarios is recognized by many states. But they also acknowledge that fusion will take quite some time. So, we have to take the different perspectives into account. Fission is an established technology, but even in that field we are seeing a whole range of new developments like the next Generation Three, Generation Three Plus or Generation Four reactors. These will also take some time.

Fusion is definitely seen as a perspective. We receive quite a lot of questions related to fusion. Our members are observing in detail what is happening here at ITER. That is also why this Council meeting is of great importance; because it can have direct implications on future decisions.

Having been observer to this fifth meeting of the ITER Council, what is your impression?

I have been told that this was one of the most interesting Council meetings so far. Personally speaking; I think that this meeting was very important. As the Chairman pointed out, achieving fusion takes an entire family working together. As in any family, there are always differences to work out. But what is also needed is communication before and after the actual discussion. I think that this meeting made that very clear, and I am sure that the next meetings will benefit from this. So you see, I think this was very positive.

Kijung Jung, the Director of the Korean ITER Domestic Agency, smiled whimsically when asked whether he had chosen the book on purpose. Its title—"The pleasures and sorrows of work"—leaves room for speculation.

The book by Alain de Botton was one out of a dozen that Kijung Jung and staff from ITER Korea had brought to France as a present for their Korean colleagues at ITER. During a break in this week's Council meeting, they surprised their collegues with the gift. And more would follow by mail, Kijung announced.

A nice surprise, one month before Christmas!

Kaname Ikeda, Bernard Bigot and François Gauché signing the Site Support Agreement. Akko Maas and Laetitia Grammatico assist with the documents.
Like the relationship between a landlord and a tenant, the CEA and the ITER Organization are governed in their relationship by a set of mutual obligations. For the past two years, while the final text of the Site Support Agreement was going through a lengthy approval process, the parties were officially bound by a mere annual contract.

On Wednesday 18 November, while the delegates to the 5th ITER Council were meeting in Cadarache, Kaname Ikeda, ITER Director-General; Bernard Bigot, Administrator-General of CEA; and François Gauché, Director of Agence Iter France (AIF) signed the 16-page document that lists with precision the rights and duties of each party.

The Site Support Agreement goes beyond the technical aspects of supplying water and electricity to the ITER site, or providing internet or bus and canteen services to the ITER staff. It is a charter that obliges both parties to work together as good neighbours.

The new document doesn't depart from the "spirit" in which ITER and CEA/AIF, as "Host Organization," have been interacting for the past two years. It officializes a relationship that has proved fruitful and rewarding, and sets the framework down to address needs that will arise during the construction and operation phases of the ITER Project.

In 2008, many things happened at ITER, some of it we remember, some of it we have already forgotten. This is where an Annual Report comes in handy. In the 2008 edition, which just came off the press, we are reminded of all the events that contributed to "greatly strengthen," in Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith's words, "the foundations of our international organization."

2008 was the year when levelling work began on the ITER site, when the Chinese Domestic Agency was created and the partnership with Monaco established. It was also the year when ten Procurement Arrangements were signed and key technologies for the tokamak successfully tested.

The ITER staff today is a little over 400. In 2008, it rose from 193 to 300. "The recruitment of over one hundred qualified staff," writes ITER Director-General Kaname Ikeda in his Foreword "gave much impetus to our young organization."

Copies of the ITER Organization 2008 Annual Report are available in every ITER building or can be downloaded here