Subscribe options

Select your newsletters:


Please enter your email address:

@

News & Media

Links

Of Interest

See archived articles

Conferences


Today is Friday 17 September and it has been one month, exactly, since I arrived in Provence with my family. Time has passed with the speed of an arrow ...

Taking over a new task, settling into a new country, a new home, is not always easy.  I am very grateful for the support my wife and I have received from you all, here at ITER, and from our many friends around the world. I thank you with all my heart.

Today, I would like to address some important issues. As you all know by now, I have placed cost containment and cost saving on the top of my priorities list. Council has asked for it and it is commanded by wisdom.

The special task force and the dedicated working group that have been created are pursuing their intensive effort towards containing the cost of ITER—a task that is difficult but also absolutely necessary.

The challenge we face is double: we have to contain the cost of in-kind contribution from the Domestic Agencies while restraining the spending of the ITER Organization.

As far as in-kind contributions are concerned, additional direct investments (ADI) and cost contingency are the most important issues presently under investigation.
 
In this perspective, we have begun looking into some of the technical issues pending. On a certain number of points, I have expressed my views quite clearly. I am strongly pushing to achieve reasonable consensus to eliminate the necessity of ELM control coils in ITER or the need to perform "cold tests" for the tokamak's superconducting magnets.

My objective, for the coming weeks, is to come up with a list of items and of their related cost-saving potential. The full cooperation and support of the seven Domestic Agencies is of course essential to this process.

As for us, the ITER Organization, we will only achieve cost efficiency by streamlining our structures and procedures.

This means that, while keeping the number of staff at its present level, we have to work, where possible, on reducing the cost of the external specialized services we rely upon.

We are now in the final process of reorganizing ITER staff and of redefining, where relevant, the jobs descriptions; by doing this, the role and mission of each and every one of us will be more clearly defined. We all know this is one of the keys to the better overall performance of our Organization.

I am also about to finalize my decisions on the newly established Project Management Group and ITER Organization-Domestic Agency Coordination Group which will be directly reporting to me. The strategic function of both groups will soon be defined and their members nominated.

We must not fear these changes. They are good for ITER, they are good for the future of fusion, and they are good for each and every one of us.

Takayuki Shirao, the new Head of ODG, is a veteran of large and complex science projects, of their management, and sometimes of their reform.
There is no clear relationship between sea urchins and fusion plasmas or superconductivity. Except that, in Takayuki Shirao's case, a thesis dissertation on "Muscle Protein Analysis in the Sea Urchin" more than 40 years ago landed him a job at the Japanese Science and Technology Agency (STA)—a starting point for a long career in the management of research organizations, "big science," international cooperation and diplomatic service.
 
As the newly appointed Head of the Office of the Director-General (ODG), Takayuki Shirao is on familiar ground at ITER. Although he was never "directly involved" with the Organization, his experience in the management of large scientific projects and the organization of various international programs already makes him feel (almost) at home.
 
An outsider to fusion—but one familiar with nuclear matters—Takayuki Shirao says that "technically speaking, there are many things in ITER that are still difficult to understand for [him]." There are some advantages, however, to that situation: "Sometimes, people who come from the outside can see better into the issues and challenges facing an organization."
 
ITER is entering a "new era" and the new Head of ODG will play an essential role in "providing Director-General Motojima with good advice" and "supporting his initiatives."
 
Less than a week into the job, Takayuki Shirao has already taken the full measure of the task that is awaiting him. And he is confident that the effects of "the change at the top" will trickle down to all areas of the project.
 
A veteran of large and complex science projects, of their management, and sometimes of their reform, he knows that the Devil often hides in the details—or, as he prefers to say in perfect French: "le Diable se niche dans les details.
 
Born in Kagoshima, at the south-western tip of Kyūshū Island, Takayuki Shirao has already spent more than eight years in France, from 1986 to 1989 as First Secretary of the Embassy of Japan in Paris, and later in Strasbourg (2001-2006) as Deputy Secretary-General of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP)—an international funding organization that supports young researchers and promotes interdisciplinary research "at the frontier of the life sciences."
 
The new Head of ODG has chosen to live in Manosque, close to the International School, where the youngest of his two daughters has just entered lycée.


Director-General Motojima was the operator during a pellet injection laboratory test. Also in the picture: US ITER Project Manager Ned Sauthoff; ITER Deputy Director-General Gary Johnson; and ORNL researchers Stephen Combs and Larry Baylor.
ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima and Acting Head of the Department for the ITER Project Gary Johnson visited the US ITER Project Office (USIPO) this week to meet staff members and update them on the status of the project.

During their visit, Director-General Motojima and Acting Department Head Johnson (who is also Deputy Director-General for the Tokamak Directorate), held discussions with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Director Thom Mason and Michele Branton, Deputy Assistant Manager for Science, US Department of Energy (DOE), Oak Ridge.

They also participated in a pellet injector laboratory test in which a pellet was shot through a mockup of a curved guide tube that will be used to deliver the frozen pellets into ITER plasmas for fuelling and controlling the plasma boundary.

The visitors spoke with USIPO staff members during an all-hands meeting at the project office. In his welcome and introductions, US ITER Project Manager Ned Sauthoff pronounced it a "special day with very special visitors."

Explaining that he has been a colleague of Director-General Motojima's for some 30 years, Sauthoff said that the new Director-General fulfills all of the qualifications for the position, with his experience in building large fusion devices and the resulting research operations and his demonstrated leadership in scientific research.

Director-General Motojima expressed his pleasure in coming to the USIPO and meeting its staff members. He said he was happy to return to Oak Ridge, which he estimated that he had visited some 15 times during his previous research and management positions.

He then reviewed the ITER objectives and parameters and talked about the finalization of the Baseline during the Extraordinary ITER Council Meeting in July.

He also discussed progress since the meeting—including the new management structure, establishment of the Project Board and the task force for cost containment, and beginning of the ITER construction phase—and stressed the importance of the ITER schedule. Director-General Motojima also reviewed the Action Plan and discussed issues related to cost and cost containment.

Acting Department Head Johnson greeted his former Oak Ridge co-workers and provided a briefing on the roles of the 32 US personnel who are members of the ITER Organization.

Strollers at the Cercle Nautique et Touristique du Lacydon (CNTL) in Marseille's Vieux-Port, keep asking Iter's skipper for documentation on plasmas, fusion and tokamaks ...
When insurance broker Albert Heraud bought a sailboat in 1989, ITER was only one year into Conceptual Design Activities (CDA) and the project's acronym was unknown to the general public.

Few people were aware that "iter"—not the acronym but the noun—translated as "the way," "the route" or "the journey." One would have to have been a Latinist or theologian to know this.

Albert Heraud, however, was neither one nor the other. But as his daughter had just started studying Latin in lycée, she suggested that "Iter" would be quite an appropriate name for the family's sailboat.

"It was a perfect choice, and an original one," says the proud father today. "You cannot imagine how difficult it is to find a meaningful name for a boat ..."

And so it was that, for some 15 years, Iter sailed the seas, hopping from island to island in the Bay of Marseille, taking the Herauds to Corsica in the summer, unaware of the bigger ITER that was taking form and gathering momentum on the horizon.

"At some point, it must have been around 2004," Heraud recollects, "ITER began making headlines, especially here in the local press because of the possibility that Cadarache would host the project."

The realization that there was something else also named Iter—and something that promised to be very big—was embarrassing; wasn't it a bit pretentious for a nine-metre sailboat to bear the same name as a multi-billion-euro project?"

At about that time, strollers on the Vieux-Port Marina, in Marseille, began asking Heraud if he was sponsored by the ITER Organization  or if he could kindly provide them with documentation on fusion and tokamaks ...

It got to the point where Iter's skipper considered changing the name of his boat. "However, I decided not to. After all, I was here first, at least before everybody around me became aware of ... that other ITER."

Still, relations between Iter-the-sailboat and the ITER Project are not simple. When ITER Communications reached Heraud to enquire about his boat, he refused to believe someone from the project was actually calling him.

It took several phone calls, a lot of persuasion and the production of some evidence before he agreed to meet, on a bright Saturday morning, on Marseille's Vieux-Port where Iter is docked.

And until this article is published, he will not be completely certain this whole thing is not a hoax.

Special thanks to Stéphane Vartanian, of CEA/IRFM, for having spotted Iter in the Vieux-Port Marina.

The FAB Seven were back at ITER this week to examine the ITER Organization's Financial Statements. On Wednesday, Hans Spoor headed a workshop on how to better format the report to make it "clear and concise" for the main users and the public.
When they take their quarters at ITER, twice a year in spring and just before the beginning of autumn, the FAB Seven can ask for just about anything: bank documents, exchange tables, vendor invoices, expense reimbursement requests ... anything in fact, that is finance-related.

The Financial Audit Board (FAB) is a seven-person body (one per ITER Member) whose mission is to examine the ITER Organization's Financial Statements so that Council and the Management Advisory Committee (MAC), can rely on the numbers provided.

"The ITER Organization's money," says FAB Chair Alice Petersen, "is taxpayers' money. This means that, beyond Council and MAC, we also have to give assurances, when asked, to the general public."

This auditing process, which is common to any Organization, consists of sifting through hundreds of documents, conducting interviews, comparing sources and requesting external evidence.

Two annual sessions, which are prepared and followed by some six to eight weeks of work, enable the small FAB team to peruse some 10 percent of the actual ITER Organization transactions.

"We are a bit intrusive," admits Petersen, "but this is the nature of the beast. We try, however, to minimize as much as we can the disturbance we may cause to the daily workings of the Organization."

To Hans Spoor, Head of the ITER Organization Finance and Budget Division, "it is essential for us, like for any respectable organization, to have an independent, external and professional view of our Financial Statements. Also, the comments that the FAB issue in their annual 'Management Report' are very valuable: they acknowledge the improvements we make and those we are due to make."

FAB is here to "protect the ITER assets," says Petersen, "from furniture to money in the bank ..."

On the first day of their week of "field work" at ITER, the FAB was addressed by Director-General Motojima who presented the new management structure—"simple, centralized and task force oriented"—and formulated the core cost-containment principle:  "Simplify every thing and every process." Director-General Motojima then shared an improvised lunch with the participants.

Later in the week, Hans Spoor headed an all-day workshop with experts from the ITER Members on how to better format the Financial Statements so that they come out "clear and concise" and easily understandable for the main users and the public.

Without superconductivity, ITER would go from being a "net energy positive" machine to a "net energy negative" machine. Here, technicians at the Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei, haul a model of ITER's superconducting correction coils. © Peter Ginter
Only centimetres away from ITER's 150-million-degree-Celsius "fusion furnace," certain components will be operating at temperatures that are at the extreme opposite end of the scale.

The magnets surrounding the ITER Tokamak will be cooled to very low, or cryogenic, temperatures near absolute zero—approximately minus 269 degrees Celsius (4.2 Kelvin). That's colder than the dark side of the Moon or the surface of Neptune, the furthest planet from our Sun.

When ITER's magnets are cooled to -269 °C, they become superconducting.

Superconductivity is a natural property of certain metals, alloys and ceramics when cooled below a defined "critical temperature."

Below the critical temperature—which varies for each material—electrical resistance drops to zero, allowing these materials to carry large amounts of electrical current without losing energy.

In magnets operating at "normal" temperatures, electrical current can be visualized as a flow of electrons moving through a microscopic jungle of atoms, defects and other electrons. The electrons inevitably collide with some of these particles, causing the electrons to lose momentum, and creating heat in the process.

For large magnets, two negative side effects result: more energy is required to restore the lost energy; and the heat generated by the collisions needs to be extracted from the magnet coils.

In ITER, on the other hand, as the superconducting materials in the magnets are cooled to below their critical temperature, the properties of electrons are changed in such a way that this electrical resistance disappears completely, and they become superconductors.

"Typically, when you pour energy into a magnet, resistance steals away part of what you have poured in," explains Paul Libeyre, Central Solenoid and Correction Coil Section Leader. "It's like trying to fill a bucket with water when it has holes. A superconducting magnet can be thought of as a bucket without holes; electrical resistance disappears completely and what you pour in ... you are able to keep."

A question of efficiency

By "retaining" all of their energy, the superconducting materials chosen for ITER's magnet systems will be able to carry higher current and produce stronger magnetic field than conventional counterparts. They'll also consume less power and be cheaper to operate ... making superconducting magnet technology the only option for ITER's huge magnet systems.

"With superconductors," says Arnaud Devred, Superconductor Systems and Auxiliaries Section Leader, "the ITER magnets will consume about 35 MW of power, which is mainly needed to run the cryoplant that keeps them cold. Without superconductors, there would be no chance of achieving Q≥10 or even Q≥1."

Advances in superconductivity have made possible an array of energy-intensive applications in the past decades such as magnetic-resonance imaging, magnetically-levitated trains, and particle accelerators.

Most of the superconducting magnets used in these applications are made from a niobium-titanium (NbTi) alloy that offers robust performance at low cost. ITER plans to use NbTi for two of its magnet systems—its poloidal field magnets, and an array of small correction coils.

Above a certain "critical magnetic field," however, NbTi no longer operates as a superconductor. For the ITER magnets that will be required to produce the strongest magnetic field—the central solenoid and the toroidal field coils—the costlier but higher-performing niobium-tin (Nb3Sn) alloy will be used.

Among superconducting tokamaks, Tore Supra in France was the first to test niobium-titanium in its toroidal field system in 1988. EAST in China, commissioned in 2006, was the first fully superconducting tokamak. More recently, niobium-tin (Nb3Sn) superconducting magnets were integrated in the Korean tokamak KSTAR (2008), and in tokamaks under refurbishment (JT-60SA in Japan) or construction (SST-1 in India).

These latest-generation tokamaks will be able to achieve ITER-similar operational parameters; experiments run on these devices will serve to support the operation of ITER, and to investigate how to optimize the fusion power plants of the future.
 
Story developed with Arnaud Devred, Superconductor Systems and Auxiliaries Section Leader, and Matt Jewell, ITER-Monaco Fellow in the Magnet Division.

"Le Soleil sur Terre" opens with an interview of Deputy Director-General Gary Johnson, presently Acting Head of the Department for ITER Project.
Last Monday, 13 September at 4:30 p.m., the French-German cultural TV channel Arte aired "Le Soleil sur Terre" (The Sun on Earth), a documentary on fusion which featured ITER, Tore-Supra, the French inertial fusion installation Laser Mégajoule and the Z Machine at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Those of us who, at that time of the day, could not be sitting comfortably watching TV in their living-room, can still view the program on the "Construire le futur" (Building the Future) page of ARTE's web site.

The program is available both in French and German.