A 30-year friendship with China
Some thirty years ago, HT-7, China's first superconducting tokamak, was entering operation and experiencing some issues with its ion cyclotron resonance (ICRH) antenna. As the fusion world was already one tight-knit family, the European Commission dispatched a young plasma physicist to Hefei, in Anhui province, where the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP) operated the machine.
For Alain Bécoulet, current head of ITER engineering (and former head of France's Institute for Magnetic Fusion Research, IRFM, which operates the WEST project), the mission¹ opened a new chapter in his life, marked by multifaceted collaborations, international agreements and, above all, long-lasting personal friendships.
Alain Bécoulet, in China in 2006, half-way into a 30-year relationship built on ''warm and confident relationships''.
In the Anhui province, friendships that are particularly meaningful are honoured by a special distinction, the "Huangshan Friendship Award." Last week, it was bestowed on Bécoulet in recognition of his 30-year relationship with ASIPP and the part he played in the development of scientific collaborations between the Chinese and European fusion communities.
For Bécoulet, who received another Chinese distinction earlier this year (the Scientific and Technological Cooperation Award of the People's Republic of China), the Friendship medal holds a special value. "It's not just about the formal collaborations we have established between Chinese institutions and the WEST tokamak, or the Sino-French agreement SIFFER, or the CEA-ASIPP partnership ... it is also, and maybe above all, the warm and confident relationships that we developed during these three decades."
In the early 1990s, when Bécoulet went to Hefei to lend a hand to his ASIPP colleagues, ITER was a four-partner project that China would not join before a full decade. But the seeds of understanding and collaboration were planted, and for the present ITER Engineering Domain Head this is a most precious asset.
¹Bécoulet was accompanied by Bertrand Beaumont, a radio frequency heating expert, now head of the ITER Ion Cyclotron section.
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