French-Lebanese physicist Farah Hariri and French President Emmanuel Macron have something in common: they are young, enthusiastic and willing to change the world. Just one year ago, Farah joined Macron’s movement En Marche! Now, while candidate Joachim Son-Forget has become the deputy representative for French residents in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, his team member Farah has been nominated coordinator for developing the energy agenda in Switzerland and ITER is part of the plan.

“Being interested in our collective future is simply in my genes, in my family”, Farah admits. Macron’s revolutionary approach to gathering experts from different political parties and professions seemed just made for her. “With Emmanuel Macron, we will make a difference, we will make our planet great again!”, she states with a smile.

Implementing energy theory

One of her top priorities is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while providing a reliable and safe energy supply. Born in Lebanon, energy issues used to be part of her daily life. “Daily power outages were a norm”, she explains. Being also very keen on maths, she decided to study plasma physics at the American University of Beirut. After graduating, she went to do a doctoral scholarship to CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives). Her fusion career seemed unstoppable. She authored a thesis on the Flux-Coordinate Independent (FCI) approach, which opened the way for the numerical simulation of plasma turbulence in a tokamak, a necessary code to address the transition from the low (L) to the high (H) mode of energy confinement, a yet still unexplained phenomenon. ITER, as it happens, needs to operate in the H mode to achieve the expected fusion performance.
In 2013, her thesis work won the 9th Itoh prize in Plasma Turbulence and the PhD prize of Aix-Marseille University. Farah continued on her career path with a post doc position at the Swiss Research Unit SPC (Swiss Plasma Center), but then CERN called.

Farah during the Climate Finance Day in Paris where she attended round table discussions with French Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot. Picture: private

Farah during the Climate Finance Day in Paris where she attended round table discussions with French Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot. Picture: private

All available combinations to avoid fossils

She joined the famous lab in 2016 and was assigned to focus on theoretical modelling: “The idea of predicting what happens in the world’s largest particle accelerator was simply thrilling, a noble opportunity which I could not let go”, she says. So much for the theory…
In her spare time, she has actively participated in the campaign of Emmanuel Macron. Today, she is coordinating the energy transition agenda for En Marche in Switzerland where multi-national projects all have different milestones, including future energy scenarios. “The timescale to fight climate change is short. We should zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 so that the two-degree threshold is not crossed. At the moment, we are in a transitional phase which does not yet have a sustainable solution. We need to use all available combinations to move away from a carbon-based energy economy”, Farah says.

Fusion is the leading option in the future energy mix

She is aware that commercial fusion energy will not be part of combating climate change during the first half of the century: “But when it comes to long term sustainability, ITER and fusion energy is one of the leading, most interesting options for a sustainable energy mix”, she says. According to her, the question is not IF but WHEN fusion will be rolled out. “On a global-scale, replacing fossil fuel while guaranteeing a constant baseload for our electricity supply means we need to incorporate all advanced nuclear solutions, including fusion.”

ITER – a matter of urgency

For Farah it is a matter of urgency that fusion appears on the energy transition agenda. To her, a successful demonstration of ITER’s burning fusion plasma is needed as soon as possible: “We’d like to see the successful operation of ITER as soon as possible, this is an emergency. Any further delays to this are very damaging. The turning point will be the demonstration of a significant energy amplification in ITER. After this phase, private companies will undoubtedly consider developing what we need: smaller and cheaper fusion power plants”, Farah states.
She also believes that the success of a numerical virtual tokamak is essential during this phase. “The successful operation of the ITER machine is important. But I believe that the success of a Numerical Virtual Tokamak is equally important. Being able to model and simulate the full machine is as important as the operation of the machine itself.

In the wake of Macron and Hulot

During the One Planet Summit organised by the French President on December 12 in Paris, two years after the historic Paris Agreement was concluded, Farah had the chance to discuss ITER’s future impacts with Emmanuel Macron and Nicolas Hulot, French Minister of Ecology.

Frédérique Vidal, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. Picture: French Government

The desire to end the Cold War led to the launch of ITER. ITER being the largest international project worldwide that enables involved workers, whether originating from science or industry, to better understand the cultural diversity of the participating countries. […] France thanks the Commission for its resolute action in support of the ITER project and also hopes that {…} the European Parliament will continue supporting the project. In conclusion, I would like to emphasise how ITER, to me, is a unique human, scientific, technological and industrial adventure requiring a perfect cooperation on all these plans. You can count on the support of France”, Frédérique Vidal, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation in a speech on 4th December 2017 within the framework of the ITER Industry Days