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Also in this issue

  • In the heart of the Korean tokamak KSTAR, in operation since 2008, a plasma pulse burns brightly.  But don't be fooled—the brightest areas of the photo are in fact the coolest. At 150 million °C (the temperature in the centre), the plasma doesn't emit in the spectrum of visible light. © National Fusion Research Institute, Korea

    Hotter than the Sun

    The ITER plasma will be ten times hotter than the centre of the Sun. How will the machine's operators produce such a blistering environment? And what physical enclosure can contain it? [...]

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  • The number of visitors has been steadily increasing since 2007, with over 67,000 cumulative visitors to the site.

    Visits on the rise: 15,000 in 2013

    More than 15,000 visitors have been welcomed to the ITER site in 2013. Visits are organized by both the ITER Organization Visit Team (general public) and Agence Iter France (students). [...]

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  • For approximately ten hours a continuous flow of concrete poured from two long pumps—800 cubic metres in all for a corner of the basemat that measures 21 x 26 metres.

    Warm concrete in the chilly dawn

    Well before dawn on 11 December 2013, the first cubic metres of concrete were poured for the Tokamak Complex basemat (the 'B2 slab'). [...]

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  • The Tore Supra tokamak, at the French research centre CEA Cadarache, is undergoing a profound transformation to become a test bed for the ITER tungsten divertor.

    Pulling together for ITER

    In its quest for fusion energy, ITER is not striving alone. Tokamaks in Europe, the United States, Korea and Japan have been the front-runners, exploring the road that ITER will begin to experiment in less than ten years. [...]

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Mag Archives

35 nations, 40 languages ... which culture?

-R.A.

English—the official working language of the ITER Organization—is the native language of just 15 % of staff. But to truly understand one another, a common language is not sufficient. (Click to view larger version...)
English—the official working language of the ITER Organization—is the native language of just 15 % of staff. But to truly understand one another, a common language is not sufficient.
On the banks of the Durance River, halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Manosque, a unique community has taken root—some 500 people from 35 countries who have arrived with their languages, cultural references, traditions and work habits.

Some are physicists. Others are secretaries, engineers, accountants, administrators or specialists in a multitude of areas. Many come to ITER from the research laboratories of the ITER Member states ... others from industry or international organizations.

While the oldest have been working for the last 30 years toward fusion energy, the youngest were just coming into the world when the ITER Project was officially launched at the end of 1985.

English—the official working language of the ITER Organization—is the native language of just 15% of staff. But to truly understand one another, a common working language is not sufficient. That's the difficulty—and the beauty—of multiculturalism at ITER.

With the exception of the United Nations such a diversity of languages, origins and cultures is not easy to find. And there's an important difference. Staff at the UN work for the country they represent, whereas at ITER, whatever the country of origin, every person is mobilized toward the same objective.

"To work at ITER is to be confronted daily with the "difference" of the person across the hallway," explains Shawn Simpson, who organizes workshops, seminars and events dedicated to "interculturality" within the Organization. "And the pitfalls ... both linguistic and cultural ... are numerous."

Translated into the lingua franca of ITER, a "yes" or "no," or a simple "I would like, please," can be quite heavy with meaning and expectation depending on whether the words were pronounced by someone from Japan, China, the United States, India, Russia, Korea, or southern or northern Europe.

A friendly gesture from one person may be construed as overly familiar by another. The raising of one's voice—a common occurrence in one part of the world—may be felt by members of another culture as aggressive and intolerable.

And as for emails (tens of thousands are exchanged each day within the Organization), they can also be a mirror of cultural values and traditions and, as such, the cause of serious misunderstanding. Take the formal, polite formulations that are de rigueur at the beginning and ends of emails in some cultures. For some, this is an indispensable sign of respect; for others, such elaborate formulations are seen as superfluous and long-winded.

Hierarchical relationships also vary from one culture to another—flexible and friendly for some ... more rigid and formal for others.

''To work at ITER is to be confronted daily with the ''difference'' of the person across the hallway,'' explains Shawn Simpson, who organizes workshops, seminars and events dedicated to ''interculturality'' within the Organization. (Click to view larger version...)
''To work at ITER is to be confronted daily with the ''difference'' of the person across the hallway,'' explains Shawn Simpson, who organizes workshops, seminars and events dedicated to ''interculturality'' within the Organization.
"Mutual understanding in an organization like ITER is only possible if each person is willing to regularly question his or her own values," says Shawn, an American born in Vietnam and raised in (among other places) France, Nigeria and Australia. "When problems occur, it's always a question of ego, irrespective of nationality."

Despite what she calls the "minefields" that are a regular part of intercultural life, the men and women of ITER understand one another. Better still, each person can be enriched by the differences encountered. "We are constantly learning from one another and, as a result, we are learning about ourselves. It's an extraordinary thing to be part of such a rich environment ..."

From the moment the first ITER Organization employees settled into temporary offices on the CEA research centre site in 2006, an "ITER culture" began to take root, enriched naturally by every newly recruited staff member from the ITER Member nations. "When today I see Americans attending a performance of traditional Japanese dance, I think to myself—interculturality truly works at ITER!"    

The grandest human enterprises, scientific or otherwise, will all be founded in the future on broad international collaboration. What men and women are inventing daily at ITER may be too young yet to be considered a model. But it's an experience that is sufficiently enriching and unique to already be the object of interest on the part of other international organizations.