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News & Media

Latest ITER Newsline

  • Plasma modelling | New SOLPS-ITER code version launched

    The widely used SOLPS-ITER tool for plasma edge modelling has evolved since its launch in 2015. At recent workshop at KU Leuven in Belgium, European specialists [...]

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  • Open Doors Day | Accessing the very heart of ITER

    Small or tall, knowledgeable or neophyte, from near or far ... the 600 people who took part in ITER's latest Open Doors Day all departed with the sense that som [...]

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  • Local | A question and answer session

    Nuclear safety policy in France requires that a local information commission (Commission locale d'information, CLI) be established every time a nuclear installa [...]

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  • 31st ITER Council | Addressing challenges

    The project's governing body, the ITER Council, convened for the 31st time in its history on 16 and 17 November to evaluate the progress of construction, m [...]

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  • Machine assembly | Key components to be repaired

    When building a machine as large and as complex as ITER, difficulties and setbacks do not come as surprises—they are an integral part of manufacturing, assembli [...]

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Of Interest

See archived entries

New ITER Director-General

An emphasis on collaboration and integrity

At the University of Genoa, Italy, in the late 1980s, students in electromechanical engineering were getting more than just a training in electricity and mechanics. "It was a very flexible, very versatile cursus that perfectly agreed with my mindset at the time," says Pietro Barabaschi, the newly appointed ITER Director-General. "I wanted to work in energy research, and within this field, nuclear research was the most appealing to me because of its close connection to physics." Engineering and science were part of the family's heritage: Pietro's two grandfathers were engineers and his father is a nuclear physicist.

However, for a young aspiring engineer, Italy was obviously not the place to pursue a career in nuclear energy. In the wake of the Chernobyl accident, the country had shut its two last operating plants and, like many in his generation, Pietro knew that his career would be that of an expatriate—which suited him just fine. In 1989, on a friend's suggestion, Pietro applied for a summer job at JET. "That was my first encounter with fusion. One year later they called me back for more. And I've been in fusion ever since..."

The ITER Director-General, who will officially take up his functions on 17 October, sat withthe ITER Newsline for an in-depth interview.

Pietro Barabaschi, 56, will officially take up his functions on 17 October. Trained as an electro-mechanical engineer he began his career in 1989 at JET and devoted his whole professional life to fusion, leading the Europe-Japan JT-60SA project and later the whole Broader Approach. Since June 2022, he was Acting Director of the European Domestic Agency (Fusion for Energy) responsible for the European contribution to ITER. (Click to view larger version...)
Pietro Barabaschi, 56, will officially take up his functions on 17 October. Trained as an electro-mechanical engineer he began his career in 1989 at JET and devoted his whole professional life to fusion, leading the Europe-Japan JT-60SA project and later the whole Broader Approach. Since June 2022, he was Acting Director of the European Domestic Agency (Fusion for Energy) responsible for the European contribution to ITER.


Tell us of your experience at JET...

It was very inspiring to work there. JET was an agile team, led by some truly remarkable individuals. I had the luck to work closely with many of them, like Peter Noll, Michel Huguet, Enzo Bertolini, and Paul-Henri Rebut. I was a power supply engineer, working on the design of the machine's internal coils. In fact, we jumped from subject to subject, which gave us a truly comprehensive perception of what a tokamak was about.

In 1992, ITER enters the Engineering Design Activities (EDA) phase and you, along with others at JET, decide to join the project. What was ITER like at the time?

Although we would soon begin to build mockups and prototypes, it was still a paper project. The teams were operating from three Joint Work Sites, one in Munich-Garching, Germany, one in San Diego, California, where I was posted, and one in Naka, Japan. The project was headed at first by Paul-Henri Rebut and soon after by Robert Aymar, whom I consider as my main mentor when it comes to my career in fusion. I did not always agree with him but I feel privileged for having had the opportunity to work with him.

Despite the complexity of the organization and the geographical distance between the three Joint Work Sites—you must remember we didn't have the communication tools we have today—working for ITER EDA was exciting and motivating. We got acquainted with all the different systems of the machine, how they would operate and integrate; however, I missed the hands-on dimension I had experienced at JET. I like to be close to the hardware and there wasn't much hardware to be close to. I was feeling frustrated not to be able to "use my hands," and one of the ways I found to beat this frustration was to fix and restore cars in my free time.

Then, there was politics. Of course, there is a political dimension in ITER—the project wouldn't exist without it. But I had the feeling that the political interference, combined with the complexity of the project, did not bode well for its success. In 2006, after a strong engagement in the negotiations for the siting of the project, I felt that I needed a break.

And that's when another tokamak enters your life...

Shortly after the Broader Approach agreement was signed between Europe and Japan, the European Commission and other fusion leaders asked me to lead the JT-60SA project, which, more than a major upgrade of the Japanese tokamak JT-60U, was in fact a completely new superconducting tokamak. After my experience at JET and the ITER EDA, I felt motivated for the job. We spent two years redesigning the machine, which is a rather short time for such a complex task, and we established the kind of "management model" I had in mind for ITER at the time of EDA. The model was welcomed by all contributors. JT-60SA has been for me a beautiful adventure and I trust it has been so for many others who have been, and still are, part of this team.

After leading the JT-60SA project, you are put in charge of the whole Broader Approach, which includes the IFMIF/EVEDA and IFERC projects. And in 2015, you apply for the position of Director-General of the ITER Organization.

I was very much into JT-60SA at the time and didn't really want to quit. I was not too keen on this idea, but let's say I was strongly encouraged to apply.

Were you keener in 2022?

My conviction is that if you want something too hard, you won't be good at it. ITER is a huge challenge and the project is in difficulty. What I feel, very deeply at this stage, is that I can contribute to make it a success.

How?

It's a matter of process efficiency, but even more than that it's a matter of culture. We need to see how we can reorganize, and it doesn't need to be dramatic. We need to be focused on collaboration, with a better integration of all Domestic Agencies. Staff in the ITER Organization and the Domestic Agencies must all be seen in the same plane—they all have the same stake in our joint project. Twice, in 2015 and again in June 2022, I was appointed Acting Director of the European Domestic Agency (Fusion for Energy) responsible for the European contribution to ITER. I have acquired some experience in the interaction between a Domestic Agency and the ITER Organization. We need to simplify our procedures, use more common tools, project a common image, and be reminded that we are building a joint research infrastructure. Something, on the symbolic level, strikes me: all Domestic Agencies have a logo, the ITER Organization has a logo, but the ITER Project does not. And to me, this is an expression of our lack of a strong common culture, of a symbol that would unite us all. I know that this does not come naturally. But we'll have to work on it.

In your recent all-staff address, you said your core value was "integrity." What did you mean by that?

We need to stop hiding problems to our stakeholders and to ourselves. The more you "decorate" the truth, the harder it will eventually hit you back. In a first-of-a-kind project such as ITER, issues, challenges, setbacks and errors are to be expected. So let's get rid of whatever fear permeates reports and interactions; let's get rid of what is antagonistic in the ITER Project's present culture.

Although I've been associated with the ITER Project for close to 30 years, there is still a lot I have to learn. That's what I'm doing now and will be doing for much time to come.



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