EFDA Newsletter (E.N.): You started your scientific career at the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité in Paris (France) and you complete it as Head of the ITER Joint Work Site at Naka (Japan). The distance between Paris and Naka is about 10 000 km. What were for you the most important milestones along the way?

Michel Huguet (M.H.): At the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité I was still a student. I started work at University for my Doctorate. Basically there are three milestones in my career. The first one was when I left my job at University to join fusion research at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) at Fontenay-aux–Roses in 1969. I was attracted by fusion as a combination of engineering and physics. After having built the tokamak there, the second milestone was when I was asked to join the JET team at Culham in England where I stayed a total of 19 years and became JET Associate Director. At the end of ‘91, I had to take the most difficult decision: I was offered the position of ITER Deputy Director at Naka, which appeared to be rather difficult and risky for my career because of technical problems and organizational difficulties with ITER. But I wanted to get involved in the design of ITER, and hopefully the construction, and trusted Dr. Rebut, who was the ITER director at that time, and so I went to Naka.

E.N.: What feelings do you remember on June 25, 1983, when JET started operation and the operator’s note was “first light, a bit of current”?

M.H.: This first JET plasma was indeed much publicised, but for the JET team it was just one step within the commissioning of the machine and this had started several months before. But nevertheless it was something significant and I would say the main feeling was relief that the systems were apparently working as expected. But I was much more satisfied a few months later, at the end of 1983, when the first plasma with a current of 1 Million Ampere was achieved. This was for me the real confirmation that the machine was working well.

E.N.: The construction schedule for JET was 5 years, that for ITER is foreseen to be 8 years, do you think this schedule will be kept?

M.H.: Something that helped JET with its very tight schedule was that, at the time the project was established, we already had manufacturing contracts placed for prototypes of the toroidal field coils and the vacuum vessel. In the case of ITER, after the establishment of the project, about two years will be needed to obtain the license to construct and then, seven years will be required for actual construction. Finally, one more year will be used for commissioning to obtain the first plasma. So the total time to achieve the first plasma is about 10 years. I think for ITER it is still a very tight schedule, but if ITER is given a strong construction team and an effective organization and project control, I don’t see why this schedule could not be met.

E.N.: Your official work for ITER as Head of the ITER Joint Work Site at Naka ends on June 30. Have you as a French national already been “Japanized” or are you happy to return to your home country?

M.H.: Working with the International Team, the Japanese Home Team and the other Home Teams has been stimulating and a very positive experience. For me, the most important part of my work has been the success we have had with the manufacture and testing of the model coils. It has been also very enjoyable for my wife and I to discover Japanese people and culture. But now, after 30 years abroad, I think my wife and I have earned the right to go back to France where our parents, children and grandchildren live. Of course, I will keep in touch with my Japanese friends and colleagues…and I confess that I am taking a lot of technical documents with me to France – so this indicates that I still feel somehow involved in fusion.

Interview: D. Lutz-Lanzinger