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Of Interest

See archived entries

Deputy Director-General

Luo Delong, Corporate

Many years later, when the Ministry of Science and Technology assigned him to the ITER Project, Luo Delong was to remember the day when, as a young boy, he read about a "man-made Sun" in a Chinese newspaper. The small piece "caught [his] imagination" but was soon forgotten; in the days when Delong was growing up there were more urgent issues. Developing the country's industrial production was one, which explains why the boy's parents, both mechanical engineers, were away most of the time, leaving him to the care of grandparents. Delong's grandfather happened to be a mechanic and, in such a family environment, the young boy developed a taste for "dismantling and rebuilding things." In another time and place, Delong, who took office as ITER Organization Deputy Director-General—Corporate on 1 April, might have entered a career like his parents' and grandfather's. But circumstances decided otherwise.

Luo Delong—an expert in intergovernmental cooperation and science and technology diplomacy—has ties to the ITER Project that are deep and longstanding, dating all the way back to the negotiations that led China to join as an ITER Member. He took up the position of ITER Organization Deputy Director-General for Corporate on 1 April 2023. (Click to view larger version...)
Luo Delong—an expert in intergovernmental cooperation and science and technology diplomacy—has ties to the ITER Project that are deep and longstanding, dating all the way back to the negotiations that led China to join as an ITER Member. He took up the position of ITER Organization Deputy Director-General for Corporate on 1 April 2023.
In middle- and high-school, Delong worked hard, enjoyed studying and got good grades. When he turned 16, despite his young age, one of his teachers felt he was ready for college—but his protective grandparents preferred to have him wait another year. He took the entrance exam and passed it, and a few years later at age 21 Delong obtained his Bachelor degree in mechanical engineering and was offered a job by the government. "We had few job options at the time; I chose science and technology and began working for a library affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology. My job consisted of writing abstracts in Chinese and English for books destined to students and the public, a great opportunity to acquire culture and knowledge in all kinds of different fields."

China, like all developing countries at the time, needed technical and administrative elites. A few years into his library job, Delong was selected by a United Nations development program that aimed to train young people from around the world and expose them to an international environment. After two years at the University of the Philippines, having improved his command of English and earned a Master's degree in library science, the Ministry called him back. He was needed in the Department of International Cooperation.

Thus began Delong's lifetime involvement and commitment to technical and scientific collaboration among nations. From his original assignment to a three-year mission as science attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, Norway, from his responsibility for the Ministry's relationships with international organizations to his appointment to lead China's involvement in ITER ... he developed a unique talent to motivate, negotiate and, whenever needed, appease.

Long before he was appointed Deputy Director-General—Corporate of the ITER Organization, Luo Delong was a familiar presence within the ITER and fusion communities. Beginning with China's bid to join the project in late 2002, he took part in each and every negotiation and expert meeting prior to the establishment of the ITER Organization. He built the Chinese Domestic Agency "from scratch," joined the ITER Management Advisory Committee (MAC), and eventually chaired the ITER Council (2020-2021). It is an understatement to say that Delong knows the project inside and out—its strengths and vulnerabilities, "the pros and cons" of its organizational structure and, most important, "the crucial nature of the present moment."

"There are lots of issues to be addressed," says Delong. Covid and "the rest" (meaning the non-conformities in key components that need repair) are causing delays that governments may find hard to accept. "In terms of schedule, we have made promises that were difficult to fulfil. Now we need to work on retaining and rebuilding confidence among our stakeholders."

To the new Deputy Director-General—Corporate, "ITER is an engineering organization" that, gradually, has become more and more bureaucratic. "The files piling up, thicker and thicker, the multiplication of meetings ... this is not ideal for the efficiency of an engineering project . At this stage of ITER history, we need to adapt our project culture."

Outside ITER, the environment has changed also. The recent emergence of fusion startups and the massive investment from private money to realize fusion in record time, whether well founded or not, has changed the way public opinion views fusion and its flagship project. "There are 'decadal plans' everywhere. We have to take this into consideration in order not to be perceived as irrelevant."

In a career that spans more than 40 years and has included broad administrative responsibilities, the management of international collaborations, and involvement in constructing and operating major scientific installations (the HL-2A, HL-2M and EAST tokamaks), Delong feels that the challenges that ITER is presently facing fall into his "core competence." But he knows from experience that "the journey may be tough when one walks alone, but gets easier when people walk together." And that is exactly what he intends to establish: a collective dynamic within the ITER Organization.

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