"Interest in nuclear fusion has risen immensely"Die Welt, 10 April 2017
The experimental reactor ITER is intended to solve mankind's energy problems. According to Director General Bernard Bigot more and more countries want to join. But they all share one concern. Die Welt's
Daniel Wetzel reports. Mr. Bigot, ITER is the largest project of the international community. But at the moment it seems as if nations are drifting apart. Will the ITER project survive Brexit and Trump?
I have received a provisional pledge from the British government that they want to stay on the ITER project. And they have also made a clear statement in the Brexit document. It is not at all compulsory that Brexit must also mean the complete withdrawal from Euratom, in which the European ITER partners are organized. And withdrawal from Euratom would not necessarily mean withdrawal from ITER. The British fusion organizations and scientists are eager to continue their contribution to ITER through collaboration with Fusion for Energy, the EU body managing Europe's contribution to ITER, and the EUROfusion research collaboration. All of these aspects will have to be negotiated. Do you hear the same from the US?
I visited the US after the inauguration of President Trump, and I spoke with Congressmen, the Department of Energy and the State Department. There are clearly uncertainties. My expectation is that every nation defends its own interests, whatever they may be. And the US wants to know if fusion technology works. Even though they have plenty of gas, oil and space for windmills and solar fields. It is the country that burns the most energy resources in the world. The Americans know that their current way of meeting the energy demand cannot last forever. The US president is not exactly a friend of international cooperation.
I hear that the US president has nothing against international cooperation as long as it is a good deal for the US. And is that so? The experimental reactor is being built in the South of France. And Europe accounts for 45 percent of the project.
That's why it's in fact a very good deal for Mr Trump. The US is paying only nine percent of the costs, but has access to 100 percent of the research results. In addition, the US has conducted outstanding research into fusion technology and has already built its own plants. If it withdrew from the Iter project, the US would have to pursue this technology alone. Because none of today's ITER partners would be likely to cooperate with them. You might get over losing a financial share of 9 percent. But could ITER do without the technical input of the US?
It would be very difficult to do without the US expertise. The central solenoid, for example, the most powerful magnet in the world, consists of 1,000 tonnes of superconducting material. These are not static, but dynamic coils, in which the magnetic field constantly moves up and down. This requires a great deal of expertise, and the US companies are able to deliver it. The same applies to ITER's fuel recycling, that is, the renewal of used tritium and deuterium. The US is the best in doing that. It would take us very long to recover from a potential American retreat. That is why it is so important for me that each of the seven ITER Members, not just the USA, feel that we are now serious about delivering. And, can you deliver? Within the research community, they still tell the old joke about the "fusion constant": According to this, the first fusion reactor is always ready "in 40 to 50 years from now" — no matter when you ask.
That was before I started here. I have committed myself to deliver the first plasma within the budget in 2025. The schedule is fixed. In April 2016, 14 independent experts with special experience in the management of major projects have certified that we are relying on the best and most realistic schedule and planning. Before you took office, the US and other important partners were still considering stepping out of the project. The costs exploded, the work did not progress. What had happened?
My predecessor had not made it clear enough that Iter is not just a research project, but an industrial one. As a researcher you gather all opinions, try to please everyone. But here you have to make decisions. I therefore accepted the office only on the basis that the Director-General has full decision-making powers. The seven ITER Member States have understood that this is the only way forward. This was a turning point. I got full power of authority, full authority over the staff, and I got a special fund of one billion euros that gives me the freedom to make decisions quickly. It relieves me of the obligation to apply for new financial resources for every new problem with all seven members. The interview of Director-General Bigot continues on www.welt.de
A dream of clean energy at a very high priceThe New York Times, 27 March 2017
On the front page of the Science section, journalist Henry Fountain takes readers to the busy ITER construction site, where "workers scurry around immense slabs of concrete arranged in a ring like a modern-day Stonehenge." In reviewing the ambitions, the status and the challenges of ITER, he speaks with ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot, fusioneers and members of the US government. Visit The New York Times for the full article.
New Head of ITER sweeps clean
Fusion in Europe, August 2015
An authentic comment from ITER's Director-General Bernard Bigot in the magazine Nature caused the fusion society to hold its breath. In the article "Pull together for fusion," published on 9 June 2015, Bernard Bigot listed several problems of mismanagement and miscommunication within the ITER Project and discussed how he intends to adjust the ITER management board proper to meet its needs. Fusion in Europe talks to Bernard Bigot about the details in the changed communication within the coming experiment on fusion, its delayed schedule and its influence on the European fusion roadmap. To the Director-General of the ITER Organization, EUROfusion's key facility, the Joint European Torus (JET) is of particular value for the mitigation of risks in future ITER plasmas.
Press interview on the results of the November 2015 ITER CouncilThe ITER Council, which meets twice a year, is responsible for the promotion and overall direction of the ITER Organization. In November 2015, the ITER Council convened for the seventeenth time in a session that focused on the long-term schedule for the project. At the conclusion of the meeting, Director-General Bernard Bigot shared the outcome with members of the press. During the Council meeting on 18-19 November, you presented an updated long-term schedule. Can you tell us how this schedule was received?
The meeting went well. Representatives from all of the ITER Members were able to ask questions, express their concerns, and formulate requests. In the end, we reached an agreement. The Council noted the proposal I made for the best technically achievable schedule for the project, and now the governing body of the ITER Organization needs additional time to be able to endorse—or amend—the proposal with resources.
The updated long-term schedule, and associated budget and staffing resources, will now be the object of an independent review mandated by the Council. The Council has committed to completing its review by June 2016; this is good news. The ITER Project will have a new schedule and, what's more, a new Baseline. Can you give us an idea of the key dates of the new schedule?
Until the Council completes its analysis, no definitive project schedule can be announced. Of course we could not expect immediate approval of our proposals related to schedule, budget, and staffing. A fully qualified panel of experts will be mandated to verify the consistency and reliability of the proposed schedule, and also to see if there are areas that can be improved or accelerated. ITER is funded through public investment and this level of scrutiny is absolutely to be expected.
While the Council is deliberating, the members have agreed to give us the resources to perform to the milestones for 2016 and 2017. This is the best result that I could expect. It allows us to really keep the momentum.
The Council clearly expressed its appreciation for the progress accomplished in eight months on site, within the management team, by the ITER Organization and the Domestic Agencies, and in factories. We have a more integrated way of working. My commitment is that the ITER Organization and the Domestic Agencies never be the blocking point, the limiting step, for suppliers to deliver. You spoke of having the resources you need for the next two years. What milestones must be achieved?
These management, construction and manufacturing milestones were specifically expressed in the Record of Decisions of the Council meeting, for example: the award of the Construction Management-as-Agent contract in 2016, the completion of winding on the first central solenoid module, the beginning of work on the B1 basement level of the Tokamak Complex, and the entry into service of the 400 kV switchyard. If my memory serves me well, there are 20 high-level milestones in 2016 and 9 in 2017. The way forward is clear; each Domestic Agency has a list.
Milestones are a way of managing a project that is a large and as complex as ITER. Below the highest-level milestones are many different strata—approximately 250 activities in the Level 1 schedule, 1,200 in the Level 2 schedule, and more than 150,000 sequences in the Level 3 schedule—each one a precisely defined task with an assigned owner. ITER is an industrial project now. Is it fair to say that you have short-term approval?
The main thing is not to lose time—all are agreed on this. We need a clear schedule and resources. We have the chance in two years to demonstrate reliability and to confirm and consolidate trust.
We were able to keep our commitment to the Council at the needed level of quality and in the limited amount of time we set for ourselves. To do so required the integrated scientific insight, engineering skills, and managerial competencies of every part of the organization. As a team, we performed a bottom-up assessment of the project. As a team, we found solutions to design challenges. As a team, we conducted an exhaustive and comprehensive integrated review. We have taken the first essential steps toward establishing a much-needed project culture. Can you tell us more about the independent review?
The ITER Council wants to be sure of the credibility and the reliability of the proposed schedule to First Plasma. Is everything consistent? Can any improvements be identified? The review will be an external vision, provided by a panel of fully qualified experts who are specialized in tokamaks or large construction projects. These experts will give advice based on experience. Did the Council identify any technical issues needing more examination?
This is a research installation, but for now it has to be managed like a construction project. The planned operational program is in the hands of researchers. This is why we are establishing a network of Scientist Fellows on a goodwill basis—scientists who agree to focus their research on pending questions related to ITER operation. The 25- to 30-year-old researchers today will be in charge of operating the machine tomorrow! If they don't "take ownership" of it in a figurative sense before then, they will not be ready.
Nuclear physics: Pull together for fusion
Nature, 09 June 2015
In June 2005, a group of industrial nations agreed on the location for the world's largest nuclear-fusion experiment: ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which they had decided to build jointly.
Today, roughly EUR 4 billion worth of construction contracts and EUR 3 billion in manufacturing contracts worldwide are underway and the first large components are being delivered to the site at St-Paul-lez-Durance in southern France.
Faced with slippage in the schedule—despite the best efforts of the more than 2,000 dedicated people working on ITER—in March 2015 the ITER Council moved to appoint Bernard Bigot, from France, to the top management position of the project. Visit Nature for the full article
An interview with ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot
ITER Newsline, 8 March 2015
An academic, scientist and high-level civil servant who "has always been concerned with energy issues," Bernard Bigot, from France, is the third Director-General to be named at the head of the ITER Organization. He succeeds physicist Osamu Motojima, who was appointed in 2010, and Ambassador Kaname Ikeda, who led the project from late 2005 to 2010.
As he takes up his duties, Mr Bigot reflects on the reasons why he accepted the nomination and draws a broad outline of the action plan that he will implement.
"We are now entering into manufacturing and preparations for assembly," he says. "This new phase requires a new organization—one tailored to meet these two major challenges, because what we have to deliver now is both a research and an industrial facility."
Tough Questions for ITER's New Director GeneralIEEE Spectrum, March 2015 On 5 March, you presented an action plan, proposing changes to the management of ITER. What are the specific problems that you are addressing?
What has plagued the ITER project so far is that we had no efficient decision process, caused by the fact that the ITER Organization and the seven domestic agencies did not operate as an integrated team. We have to make decisions every day, take financial decisions; we need to learn to work together. The question is not to 'control,' but the capacity to work together. What are the changes you proposed?
Bigot: There are three important points. The first one is that the members, represented by the domestic agencies they have established, must consider it fully legitimate that the Director General is fully empowered to take any decision with eventual implications to the main interest of the project. The domestic agencies and the Central Team, here in France, worked quite independently, and I strongly believe that they should work closely together and be placed on an equal footing, and that we need someone who can arbitrate.
Secondly, we need to set up an organization in such a way that people feel associated with the decisions taken. We will set up an Executive Project Board that will be chaired by the DG, and in which the seven domestic agencies will be represented by their heads. In this way we can discuss issues and take decisions. Previously, representatives of the domestic agencies had also the rank of Deputy-Director General, confusing the technical role they had in the ITER Central Team and their responsibility in representing their own country. Now the Central team consists only of technical people, that way we simplify the process of diffusion and discussion.
My last point is that I will ask the ITER Council to provide the DG with a reserve fund that will be fully available to implement the technical decisions taken by the Executive Project Board. We are now in a new phase, starting with the assembly of the test reactor, and we have to operate as a single organization, despite the fact that the domestic agencies will continue as legally separate organizations. Past delays and mistrust of the technology have sometimes resulted in funding problems. Is outreach sufficient?
Bigot: The questions are legitimate, and that is why we have to communicate. We have to answer these questions, and not only from the general public. A large part of my duties will be to keep in close touch with the members, with political leaders, congressmen, in such a way that they feel fully associated, fully understanding how we work, and what the possibilities of this technology are.
We have to demonstrate that we can deliver. ITER is not just a nice research project, it has to fulfill the expectation that in the long term fusion will be a reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly way to supply energy. What makes you optimistic that the ITER project will succeed in demonstrating this?
Bigot: I have now visited several of the members, and I realize there are many issues to be addressed. So far we are moving in the right direction. The more we advance with the project, the more we see what the difficulties are and we address them, and we find solutions. For example, a few years ago we did not master the technology for producing superconducting coils required for the large magnets. We are now proceeding with the manufacture, and we're satisfied with the results.
And it is encouraging that some members are considering the next step, after ITER. China, with its large population, expects that fusion technology will be able to provide a share of their energy supplies some time this century. We view their own plans for fusion energy as an endorsement of ITER. Read the full interview in the IEEE Spectrum.