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ITER NEWSLINE 280
When he came to ITER on 17 January 2013, European Commissioner for Energy Günther H. Oettinger took a solitary stroll into the Tokamak Pit, away from officials and the media, touching the smooth concrete of the seismic plinths as if to assess the reality of the project and the "impressive amount of work" that had already gone into ITER construction.
Last Friday, 6 September, the plinths and seismic pads were no longer visible. Formwork and rebar for the B2 slab—the actual floor of the Tokamak Complex—hid them from view and made strolling impossible. As one newspaper article pointed out the following day, "the ITER Tokamak Pit now looks like a conventional worksite."
As Commissioner Oettinger stood with other invited guests at the edge of the Seismic Pit, however, the view was striking: the large circular rebar at the centre of the Pit where the 23,000-tonne machine will sit; the towering walls; the forest of rebar that is going up on either side for the Tritium and Diagnostic buildings.
"This is a historical undertaking," said the Commissioner, addressing the media. "Our visit here is sending a clear, positive message to all those working for ITER."
The Commissioner stressed the progress that has been made to date, adding, "Our project is now well into the construction phase. I'm convinced that our success will grow..."
During the ITER Council Ministerial-Level Meeting that took place minutes later in the Council Chamber on the fifth floor of Headquarters, the Commissioner sought to "personally thank ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima and his staff for the remarkable work that we were able to witness on our tour of the site."
The Commissioner also mentioned the "many positive developments for which the ITER Organization and the ITER Members should be commended."
At the press conference that followed the meeting, Commissioner Oettinger insisted once again on the historical, one-of-a-kind nature of the project, adding that he, as well as all the ITER Members, acknowledged the inherent challenges, notably as regards schedule and cost containment.
They said it in different words and they said it in different languages. But it all came down to the same message: ITER is complex, ITER is challenging, but we need ITER and we are confident in its success.
The press conference that followed the Ministerial-Level Meeting gave European Commissioner Oettinger, ITER Director-General Motojima and every Head of Delegation an opportunity to put ITER into context and explain the challenges the project is facing.
All agreed that, in the words of one Head of Delegation, "witnessing the progress of construction as we did this morning is an important element in understanding and assessing the project."
The press conference was attended by some twenty different media, among them TV crews from France, Russia and Korea (approximately 40 journalists in all). Newspaper headlines the next day were exceptionally positive—in the spirit of this banner on the front page of the area's regional daily La Provence: "World unites around ITER."
Geneviève Fioraso, the French Minister of Higher Education and Research, speaks of ITER with passion. In interviews with the media or in addressing her ministerial colleagues, her words are strong and her tone enthusiastic.
"The huge, amazing amount of work" that is going into ITER impressed her no less last Friday than it did on her first visit to ITER on 17 January 2013, when she came to Saint Paul-lez-Durance to inaugurate the ITER Headquarters building alongside European Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger.
She sees ITER for what it is today: "A unique and outstanding project, the broadest international cooperation for research ever implemented." But she also sees beyond, as she stated in an interview to French public TV France 3, asserting that ITER and fusion are "the solution to what I consider the largest challenge of this century—providing energy that is environmentally responsible, that does not generate carbon dioxide like the fossil fuels we are tapping today."
The minister also reaffirmed that France, as Host Country, is "fully committed to ITER" and she formally announced to her ministerial colleagues that "France [had] achieved all of its commitments within budget and schedule."
Her last words, as she stepped into her car to leave ITER Headquarters, were: "You can be absolutely confident in the support of the French government."