The stakes are high for Kaname Ikeda, the new director of the world´s biggest ever fusion experiment. Kaname Ikeda is not a fusion scientist, but has dealt extensively with fusion researchers while moving up the ranks of Japan´s science administration. His manifold experience in both national and international project management might have been the reason, Ikeda admits in an interview with EFDA, why he was chosen as director general for the ITER project.

Kaname Ikeda was born in January 1946. “I grew up in a fairly poor surrounding in downtown Tokyo, in a country that was shattered by the war.” In 1968 Ikeda graduated in nuclear engineering and later joined government services. Since these days he has been mostly engaged in science and technology administration. He served as director general for nuclear safety, as director general for research and development and as deputy minister for science and technology. Later he joined the Japanese Space Development Agency as executive director until in 2003 he was appointed Japan’s ambassador to Croatia.

Last summer ambassador Ikeda was nominated director general for the ITER project. In March this year Kaname Ikeda moved from Zagreb to Pierrevert, a small town set a few kilometres to the north of Cadarache, to face the challenges of his new job. And there are quite a few challenges lying ahead. Besides the scientific and technological problems that have to be solved on the way to a fusion power plant, ambassador Ikeda will use his diplomatic skills to assemble the international community contributing to this highly complex project under one roof – physically and mentally. “ITER is one of the most complex, innovating and challenging projects in the world today. Building up the international team while maintaining momentum is a matter of first priority”, Ikeda stresses.

“Since the baseline design was set in 2001 with a lot of research and development being carried out in the meantime the results need to be well incorporated”, Ikeda continues. “An early project review will therefore be necessary.” Besides browsing through the information collected over the last five years, the main challenge for Ikeda lies in the complex agenda of the project itself. “As director general I will have to make sure that all the technical components for the reactor that will be built at different sites all over the world do fit together in the end and perform as one.” Also, continuous project management to him will be “a must to prevent any of the seven parties to step out of the project for any reason.” Nevertheless the 60 year old diplomat, whose first term as director general will last five years, is optimistic about the future: “ITER is truly an example of an international cooperative project for the benefit of the people all over the world. We are fortunate to be part of such a meaningful project and I believe that the cultural differences of the contributing partners are an important source of energy.”

Ikeda hopes that by the end of next year he and his recently nominated principle deputy director general Dr. Norbert Holtkamp will have appointed the staff for the project´s various divisions. The total workforce in Cadarache will utlimately be about 500, although it remains to be seen how this breaks down between scientists, engineers and administrative personnel. Talking about the future, Ikeda is optimistic that ITER draws the attention of young and skilled scientists and engineers. “They are keen in this project. Nevertheless we will have to make sure that during the long period of construction the project is well linked to the science communities so that ITER serves their interests.”

Once the staff is in place, Ikeda´s next big job will be to oversee the awarding of the contracts for the facility´s superconducting magnets that will account for over a quarter of ITER´s construction costs. But before any of this can happen, however, the project partners have to agree on the legal framework and have it ratified by their respective legislatures. On May 24th, the first step towards the end was taken in Brussels where representatives of the seven parties initialled the ITER agreement.

Depending on ITER´s success proving fusion’s power-generating potential, Kaname Ikeda believes that the first fusion power plant could be built within the next 30 years. “It will then be up to the overall energy situation whether fusion plants are competitive or needed as optional energy supply.” To Ikeda publicity therefore plays a vital role. “Throughout its construction and its operation the significance of ITER needs to be well understood by the public.”

Although Ikeda is confident with the work done so far, it will be his job to make sure that ITER is being built on time and on budget. “Whether we´ll succeed depends on our will and ability in building up a good team as ITER organisation. To do so, I will need good support from the parties”, the Director General says. “I feel tremendously responsible. I will certainly give it my best effort.”


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editors: Mark Tiele Westra, Sabina Griffith

layout: Stefan Kolmsperger

© Jérôme Paméla (EFDA Leader) 2006.

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