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In a scene reminiscent of an Apollo Moon mission, geologists take measurements in the Tokamak excavation pit.
It is springtime on the ITER site. Green is sprouting along the embankments, and construction, in Tim Watson's own words, "is progressing reasonably well" both on the platform and just below, on the Headquarters Building worksite.

"Everything is going pretty much as planned," says the Head of the Buildings & Site Infrastructure (BSI) Directorate. Concrete structures in the basement level of the future ITER Headquarters are now nearing completion and work on the ground floor, where the social amenities such as a restaurant and bank counter will be located, is now well underway.

A "model office" should be set up in September 2011 to test the layout of furniture and office equipment. The ITER Headquarters will accommodate some 500 ITER staff in a set-up designed as "a good balance between very large open-plan offices and small single occupancy offices." Agence Iter France and the European Domestic Agency F4E are expected to hand the building over to the ITER Organization during the summer of 2012.

On top of the ITER platform, Tokamak excavation works (literally) reached rock bottom last month. By way of radar mapping and the boring of more than 500 holes, geological surveys provided a detailed map of the substratum. Some voids were detected, the largest being a few cubic meters in volume; these voids will now be filled with concrete.

The Tokamak excavation area is now being readied for the pouring of a thin layer of 'blinding concrete' that will create the clean and flat work surface upon which the 1.5-metre-thick "lower basemat" will be created. Concrete operations should begin a few weeks from now and last until the end of the year. Some 82,000 tonnes of concrete will go into the lower basemat alone.

A "fairly conventional construction, but a very big one," the Poloidal Field Coil Assembly Building has entered "roof and cladding" operations. Five out of the six poloidal field coils of the ITER Tokamak will be assembled here; operations could begin as early as 2012 and last until 2017.

What will happen to this 11,000 square metre building once coil winding operations are complete? "Everybody wants to use it," says Tim. "Nothing has been decided yet, but people always use a space if it's there... There are indeed lots of things you can do in a large open space with two cranes."

A new and quite large element, in the form of a 43-metre-high electricity pylon, will soon be added to the platform scenery. The pylon will be anchored between the "green" and "blue" buildings of the present contractors' area, and will support the last portion of the 400 kV lines destined to supply current to the ITER installation. In June, France's electricity carrier RTE (Réseau de Transport d'Électricité) will commence the construction of the large (40,000 square-metres) "switchyard" through which power will be fed to ITER.

What has been accomplished since last August is impressive. It was only nine months ago, after all, that bulldozers, scrapers and power shovels returned to the ITER platform.

The "veins of the tokamak"—this is how some people refer to the 15-kilometre-long network of stainless steel lines that form ITER's impressive vacuum distribution system.
This week, the Procurement Arrangement for ITER's vacuum auxiliary systems was signed by the ITER Organization and will be countersigned by the US Domestic Agency within the next days. "This is the first Procurement Arrangement for the Vacuum Section," said Robert Pearce, Section Leader, "and we are very pleased to have accomplished the signature on schedule. This achievement comes as a result of hard work and the excellent collaboration between ITER Organization and US vacuum teams." The vacuum auxiliary systems are part of the early delivery items for the ITER Tokamak.

A 15-kilometre-long network of stainless steel vacuum lines will be responsible in ITER for the transport of exhaust from the vacuum vessel, cryostat and other systems to the Tritium Plant for cleaning and reprocessing. This is one of the largest distribution systems of the ITER Tokamak, and one of the first to be installed during assembly. Its installation is scheduled to start at the end of 2013 as soon as the buildings are available.

The components covered under this Procurement Arrangement to be procured by the US Domestic Agency are pipe runs, pipe run supports, and vacuum leak testing equipment. Assembly leak detection equipment will be required for the testing upon arrival and during assembly all of the main tokamak systems, including the vacuum vessel, cryostat, magnets, diagnostics, cryolines, thermal shield, feeders, heating systems, blankets, and divertor.

For those who keep record, this was Procurement Arrangement number 53.

Click here for more information on the vacuum distribution lines.

Click here to watch The science of nothing.

Brad Nelson presenting during the Lehman Review.
A team of engineering, science, and project management experts led by the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Project Assessment visited the US ITER Project Office (USIPO) this week to assess the status and progress towards Critical Decision 2 (CD-2) for US hardware contributions.

The Lehman Review committee received briefings and reviewed documents from the USIPO. The committee noted several key achievements, including significant progress on recommendations from the last review in August 2010 and paid particular attention to prerequisites for achieving CD-2 status, scheduled for summer 2012. CD-2 is a critical decision that indicates US DOE approval of the project's performance baseline.

Ned Sauthoff, UISPO manager, observed, "This review is helpful for us to continue to learn and to improve. Since our last review, we've made significant headway in resolving design uncertainties and advancing design progress. We will continue to strengthen our team and processes as we move on toward CD-2."

Ed Synakowski, associate director for the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences at the DOE Office of Science, commented, "The USIPO is to be congratulated for their tremendous effort. The work you have done since the last review is obvious."

The committee concluded its report by congratulating USIPO management and recommending attention to confirming a self-consistent baseline as fundamental preparation for future reviews.

The successful three-day review was led by Daniel Lehman, who has served as the Director of Project Assessment for DOE Office of Science since 1991. He has been recognized worldwide for developing a comprehensive review system to ensure DOE's large science projects are delivered on time and on budget. Large projects such as US ITER typically undergo review once or twice each year.

The purpose of the review is to provide independent project assessment that pays particular attention to organization and management practices. This type of review offers a reality check to project leadership and helps projects overcome barriers to addressing challenges. Preparing for regular reviews also aids large-scale projects in focusing on their current status and targeting necessary steps for the future. A successful review adds to a project's credibility and can signal to stakeholders that the project is on track.

Popularizing science is his passion and his profession: The new Head of ITER Communication, Michel Claessens.
A "scientist who turned out badly" is how he likes to define himself, because despite his scientific background, Michel Claessens, ITER's new Head of Communication, chose a career in which he could talk about science rather than apply it.

In 1986, Michel, who is Belgian, obtained a PhD in physical chemistry at the University of Brussels. But in parallel to his activities as a scientific researcher, he also started to write as a freelance scientific journalist. And sure enough, during job tests for a big international company, the outcome—which showed equal competence and interest in science and literature—was somewhat of an enigma to the examiners. "I have been writing stories ever since I was 10 and I am really interested in popularizing science," says Michel, "so the result came as no surprise to me."

The perfect opportunity to combine both skills presented itself in the early 1990s: the European Commission was looking for people with scientific background and at the same time experience in communication. Michel was hired in 1994 and joined the Directorate-General (DG) of Research where he was responsible for a wide range of activities such as media relations, information activities, editorial and publication policy and the organization of external events. He also initiated the European Commission magazine on research, RTD Info (later renamed research*eu). For the last three years, Michel was the Acting Head of the Communication Unit of DG Research.

After more than 16 years in institutional communication however, the opportunity to become ITER's new Head of Communication was a challenge Michel could not resist. "The complexity of the ITER Project with its scientific, political and intercultural dimension, really appealed to me—not to mention its ultimate objective," says Michel. "And telling the world, but also the local population, what we are doing here at Cadarache and why we are doing it is a unique opportunity for a science communicator like me."

Michel has moved to Manosque where his wife and two of his children will join him this summer. Meanwhile, he hopes to find a club where he can play his favourite sport, badminton, and also looks forward to discovering some of the countless beautiful spots in the region as well as typical "cuisine Provençale."

Young actors performing an extract of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"—including "the wall."
That's what the show's called and that's exactly what the International School of Manosque—which is now officially called the International School of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur—has got! And what talent they all showed on Wednesday evening at the Theatre Jean le Blue in Manosque. From rock 'n' roll, rap, gymnastics, hip hop and Bollywood dancing to refined classical music, a Chinese fan dance, and an extract from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, this show had a bit of everything.

But it wasn't just the ISM pupils who wooed the audience; some very talented mums also showed what they were made of: from India, mums Dhamishtha Parmar, Sunita Rathi and Manisha Patel gave a lovely performance in beautiful costumes dancing to the song Aaja Nachle; and Julie Onstott and Jodi Jewell gave a rendering performance of "Look to the Rainbow" with fine voices and exquisite piano playing.

Let's not forget the comperes either: Bas, Joe and Tyler did a great job at introducing all the acts with their easygoing banter and their relaxed, yet confident way of introducing each act.

You can see some of the acts in the image gallery ...

Charles H. Rivkin, US Ambassador to France, met with the ITER "American Community" and guests on the Château terrace. From left to right: Cesar Luongo; the Ambassador; Joe Minervini from MIT; Joe Snipes; Chang Jun Hoon; Ed Daly; and, wearing a hat, Bob Simmons visiting from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
US Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin, who visited the ITER site this Tuesday, can be listed among the people whose work has made a decisive impact on American popular culture. As head of The Jim Henson Company for 15 years, he produced such iconic TV programs as "The Muppet Show."

The Ambassador came to ITER accompanied by the US Consul General in Marseille, Diane Kelly. He confided that he had long heard "rumours about a secret project in southern France." As he was shown the platform and the ongoing construction work, the Ambassador was glad to note that there was nothing "secret" about the ITER Project.

"I'm very impressed by the science, the technology and the international cooperation at work within ITER," he said. "I'm happy that industrial-scale fusion will be available for our children and grandchildren."

Consul General Kelly, who took her position on March 17, admits she was a bit uninformed about  "thermonuclear fusion". However, after a briefing in Washington and a visit to the site, she came to the conclusion that the idea behind ITER was "brilliant."

Before heading to the platform, both diplomats were given a presentation of the project by ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima. Back at the Château, where lunch was awaiting them, they shared an apéritif with members of the 34-person strong "American community" at ITER. 

Currently, 32 organizations within the ITER Members are using the CODAC Core System.
In February last year we reported about the release of the ITER "Plant Control Design Handbook" (PCDH), a document that enables all parts of the ITER machine to speak the same language. Since the various parts of the machine are constructed all over the world by the ITER Members, it is fundamental that this "language" be defined, communicated and accepted in advance.

PCDH defines the norms and standards to be applied when developing the control systems for plant systems and is an essential part of ensuring the integration and operation of ITER. 

The ITER CODAC Division has now released the 2011 edition of the PCDH after a thorough review involving all ITER Member states. The 2011 edition of PCDH is complemented by a comprehensive set of additional information including examples, recommendation and guidelines to help the user.

See more on the PCDH here.

In parallel to the release of PCDH, a new version of CODAC Core System has been issued. CODAC Core System is the software package that allows the plant system developer to implement and test the local control system. CODAC Core System includes Mini-CODAC, which will be the official tool to execute factory acceptance tests.

See more on the CODAC Core System here.

Currently, 32 organizations within the ITER Members have registered for and are using CODAC Core System. This number is expected to grow to more than one hundred when the design and construction of plant systems takes off in the next years.

Various pilot projects are currently performed to apply both PCDH and CODAC Core System on real systems. For example, the B20/B21 substations providing power to the ITER site will be interfaced and monitored by CODAC. The flywheel generator at the FSU Tokamak in Frascati, Italy is at present under conversion to a fully compliant ITER plant system, as is the fuelling system at KSTAR in Korea. The ITER CODAC system is truly becoming a world language.

For a month and a half last fall, anthropologist Giulia Anichini observed, listened and conducted some 30 interviews with a "representative sample" of ITER employees.
Anthropologists study human groups—their behaviour and beliefs, and the way they relate to each other and to their environment. They try to understand what lies beyond appearances and to decipher the symbolic meaning of words and actions.

A large variety of human groups can be submitted to anthropological studies: Amazonian tribes, inner-city gangs, Bushmen hunter-gatherers, Kirghiz herdsmen, deep-sea divers and, of course, scientists.

Along with historians and science philosophers, anthropologists are often present in scientific institutions. At CERN, for instance, social scientists have been routinely "embedded" in major projects for many years. The journal Nature reported on their work at the LHC last year in an article headlined "The Large Human Collider."

While it doesn't deal in particle physics, ITER also could be dubbed a "Large Human Collider": 34 nations are represented in the organization's staff, each bringing its own language, culture and work habits to the project.

The European Fusion Development Agreement (EFDA), considering that such a unique community was worth studying from an anthropologist's point of view, recently commissioned Agence Iter France and the Marseille campus of École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) to analyze the "Intercultural dimensions of the ITER scientific community."

The project appealed to Giulia Anichini, a PhD student at EHSS who had previously done anthropological work at CINaM, a nanoscience lab in Marseille, and who intended to do her doctoral dissertation on a large science project like ITER.

"It is legitimate for social studies as a whole to explore the dynamics of a 'scientific object' such as a lab or a science project," says Giulia. "Beyond the rational endeavour that is 'science', there are men and women, and when these men and women come from different cultures and traditions this has an influence on the 'scientific object' itself."

For a month and a half last fall, Giulia observed, listened and conducted some 30 interviews with a "representative sample" of ITER employees. The community she encountered here was very different from the one she had studied at the nanoscience lab in Marseille where work revolved around a large Scanning Electron Microscope.

"What makes ITER different," she explains, "is that the community is focused on an 'object' that has no physical existence yet. A physical object to which everybody can relate, like a telescope or a particle accelerator, has a strong incidence on the lab's dynamics. It can be particularly interesting to study how scientists talk about (and sometimes talk to...) such an object."

ITER, says Giulia is a "community in the making [where] practices are not stabilized yet." The young anthropologist observed how 'informal arrangements' are agreed upon to help deal with linguistic barriers, conflicting work habits or a different perception of time.

Time, anthropoligists explain, is polychronic in some cultures and monochronic in some others. In monochronic cultures, time is perceived as a material thing and people adhere almost religiously to plans, take time commitments seriously and are accustomed to short-term relationships. In polychronic cultures, time is continuous; people change plans often and easily and they are involved with many things at once.

In ITER, as in every multicultural community, polychromic and monochromic cultures coexist—and they find ways to work together toward a common goal...

By the end of this month, Giulia will submit her report to EFDA. She acknowledges that her work, so far, has only permitted a superficial exploration of the ITER reality. What she hopes for is an opportunity to spend more time with the project's team and to dig deeper into their 'practices'.

"Beyond science and technology," she adds, "ITER appears to be a unique human experience." As such, it is well worth a PhD dissertation in anthropology.

On Tuesday the colony moved out of the lonely oak to a temporary home next to the APAVE office.
That old wrinkled oak standing on the platform edge is no ordinary oak. In Agence Iter France parlance, it is an "ARB", short for "Arbre Réservoir de Biodiversité", a sort of biological reserve for wildlife. As such, it was preserved and protected when the platform was cleared and levelled.

For more than three years, the lonesome ARB was home to a large colony of bees. Some 15,000 of them lived and worked there, patiently building honeycombs to store their larvae, honey and pollen.

A large colony of bees sitting next to a busy worksite can be perceived as a safety issue. There was talk of removing the colony, but technical—and ethical—considerations prevented further action. "We had the choice between either cutting the tree, or killing the bees," explains Bruno Couturier, an engineer with Agence Iter France and an amateur beekeeper, "and either prospect was very unpleasant."

The bees must have sensed the moral dilemma Bruno and the safety people were facing. They came up with their own solution: on Tuesday, the colony moved out of the lonely oak and gathered on a smaller, younger tree close to the APAVE office in the contractors' area.

"People had heard about my beekeeping activities," explains Bruno. "I got a phone call from a colleague at APAVE suggesting that I come and pick up the swarm. There's a very simple technique: put a cardboard box under the swarm, shake the tree lightly and as long as the queen falls in the box, the whole swarm will follow."

And so it happened that the ITER bees were transported in a sealed cardboard box all the way to Bruno's place on the lavender-covered plateau of Valensole—the ultimate bee paradise.