Posted on: 8th April 2006

At a meeting in Tokyo on 1st April, the chief ITER negotiators from the seven international parties (European Union, India, Japan, Korea, China, the Russian Federation and the USA), accepted the European Union´s proposal to designate Dr. Norbert R. Holtkamp as nominee Principal Deputy Director-General (PDDG) and Project Construction Leader of the prospective ITER Organization. With the previous appointment of Kaname Ikeda as nominee Director-General in November 2005, the top management team of ITER is now complete.

portrait of Norbert Holtkamp

Dr. Norbert Holtkamp


Dr. Norbert Holtkamp was born in Fuerstenau/Germany in 1961. He studied physics at the University of Berlin, where he also began to develop a special interest in accelerator physics. Since then Dr. Holtkamp has worked at several accelerator laboratories around the world: he got his PhD at the University of Darmstadt, moved on the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg, and in 1998 he moved on to the United States to work at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Chicago. In 2000 Dr. Holtkamp was offered to lead the construction of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) Accelerator, where he started work in January of 2001.

EFDA: Dr. Holtkamp, what project are you currently involved in?

Holtkamp: “Apart from getting used to the idea that I will be working on a fusion device very soon, I still work at SNS, the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is a 1 GeV high intensity H-ion accelerator that smashes protons onto a mercury target to produce a pulsed very high flux neutron source. The project was built by a collaboration of six Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratories from which five were involved in the construction of the accelerator. Similar to ITER, these laboratories designed and constructed subsystems and the team in Oak Ridge integrated, installed and operated the system. It was an interesting experience since this is the first time that it was done this way within the DOE. The total cost of the SNS is 1.4 Billion USD, about half of that sum flew into the accelerator systems. The construction will be finished in June on time and within the foreseen budget. Both were set in 2000 and we are still holding to these numbers.”

EFDA: When will you start in Cadarache?

“The SNS construction project finishes officially by the end of June. Between now and then I will work part time on ITER issues with Ambassador Kaname Ikeda. On July 1st I will officially step down as division director at SNS. Until September I will then work 50%-50% on ITER and SNS to allow for a smooth transition. I also have to chair a conference at the end of August, which was planned long ago. So, in the beginning of September I plan to move to Cadarache and start there full time.”

EFDA: What will be your first action there?

pictture of Norbert Holtkamp at JET

One of his first steps as ITER Construction Leader led Dr. Holtkamp to the JET facilities in Culham

“There are three things that need to happen quickly: Kaname Ikeda and myself need to build up a first class team and we have the responsibility to create an environment in which a first class team wants to live. The boundary conditions are perfect: technically speaking, ITER is the most interesting thing going on and the Provence is a beautiful place. We need to capitalize on this to get the team together and all the other things that the people will need. Everything from computer support in the offices to schools for the families. Second, there are a number of technical decisions to be made. A path needs to be defined on how to make these decisions, so that everybody buys into them. Then a design review will be held. Also the distribution roles and responsibilities that go along with the tasks need to be defined once they are specified. Finally, I need to learn French as soon as possible and find a place to live for me and my family as well as a school for my son.”

EFDA: As Deputy Director General you will take the roll of the Project Construction Leader. Can you explain what that means in practice?

“That means that Ikeda and myself will align our work as much as possible consistently with the expertise that we both bring to the table. My background is construction and project management of large scientific instruments and Kaname Ikeda´s is very much science administration, science management and of course international relationships and negotiations.”

EFDA: Have you worked on fusion before?

“Fusion is a new territory for me, though many of the technologies are very similar. So, hopefully, that will make it a little easier for me to get started. I will rely very much on the excellent people that have been working on the topic for a long time. Speaking for myself – I typically moved on to a new job whenever it was time to learn something new. Now, ITER is the opportunity for me and I intend to grab it. Nevertheless I have to admit: this is more a quantum step than a move.”

EFDA: Talking about ITER, what do you think is the largest challenge?

“In big projects like this the challenge is always twofold: first, there is the need to deliver the technical scope on time and on budget, which is how the continuous support from all partner countries is maintained. Everybody likes to be part of a success-story. That´s what we need to achieve. Second, in a big project with many partners there is always the need for what one of my teachers called “equal distribution of pain”: the need to compromise, so that everyone can buy into it, even if he has to give up something. It is clear that he will only do so, if everybody else does too. The trick is, to get to that point without compromising the quality of the technical scope.”

EFDA: ITER has seven partners. Coordinating their contributions, will that be a potential problem you”ll have to face?

“People have a tendency to focus on the ´problem´part of this collaboration. My experience is, that if exceptional expertise is brought to the table, as it is the case with ITER, the focus will be on the production capacity/capability. That will make it easier to successfully deliver.”

EFDA: The average age of the scientists working on fusion is relatively high. Considering the long timescale of the project – will there be enough physicists who have the required expertise?

picture of Norbert Holtkamp at JET

"This is more a quantum step than a move"

“Concerning the first part of your question – if you would make that comment in the US you would be sued for age discrimination. But more importantly: it is not about how old people are, it is about how young they feel. I see a lot of enthusiasm and that´s what one needs in a big project like this: lots of engagement, many long hours and the will to succeed. When I started at SNS, there was a concern on whether we would be able to hire that many people. At peak times, we had to hire more than a person a week. But we succeeded. They all came and we became an excellent team. If you ask them why, the answer is: ´It´s an interesting project and it gives me an opportunity to advance my career´. I believe that within a few years time we will be amazed to see how many excellent people out of the fusion community and from the outside will have appeared.”