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 9th of 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 talked 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.

Steering the wheel of an international Sun chariot: Illustration of Bigot’s challenges at ITER as used in the magazin Nature. (Courtesy of David Parkins)

Steering the wheel of an international Sun chariot:
Illustration of Bigot’s challenges at ITER as used in the magazine Nature.
(Courtesy of David Parkins)

What motivated you to write such a decisive and honest statement about ITER’s current status in the magazine Nature?

I was asked to contribute a comment on the present status of ITER. I am glad you find this piece “decisive and honest”. That is what I intended. It is very important for me to respond to media requests. ITER is a complex project and needs to be explained to the public. When you explain, when you try to share your convictions and pre-occupations, you have to do it with absolute honesty. Honesty is in my nature, and as Director-General of the ITER Organization it is also my duty.

Your academic and political work for the past 20 years have always been close to the realisation of ITER. When you started as new ITER Director-General, were you fully aware of all the struggles you would have to face?

I was aware of the difficulties the project was facing. But I would not use the word “struggle,” which is a bit too harsh. Let’s say that certain situations require more dialogue and concertation …
We need now to foster an atmosphere in which all actors feel personally responsible for the project, not just for their area of specific competence. All Domestic Agency Heads share this vision. Now, the day-to-day reality is always slightly different from what you anticipate. Old habits die hard …

In your Nature article we learnt about the building of integrated teams as one of your first steps. How many teams are to be built and what will be their specific domains?

The creation of integrated teams, which we call “Project Teams,” stems from the necessity to increase the efficiency in the management of critical technical issues. They should deliver improved communication, reduced paperwork, and elimination in the duplication of procedures and swift decision-making. Within their technical jurisdiction, they integrate all players – Central Team, Domestic Agencies and, if needed, representatives of industry – into a cohesive decision-making body. The first Project Team for Buildings, Infrastructure and Power Supplies (BIPS) is now operational. It brings together 38 staff from the European Domestic Agency (Fusion for Energy) and 27 from the ITER Organization Central Team. A Vacuum Project Team has also been established and will be followed by another for cryogenics.Only a small number of in-kind procurement items will require the establishment of a dedicated Project Team because of specific difficulties or complexity.

You wrote that new channels of communications will be set up. How, specifically, will this be done?

Efficient communication between the Central Team and the Domestic Agencies, and among the seven Domestic Agencies is crucial to the success of ITER. The project is a collective venture that relies on a constant flux of scientific, technical, administrative and political exchanges. The “Unique ITER Team” was an important step in the right direction. During “UIT week”, once a month, the Heads of the Domestic Agencies and their closest collaborators were physically present at ITER Headquarters, which created a strong team spirit within the global management and promoted the shared ownership of project objectives. In the new Executive Project Board (EPB), which I chair, the Heads of the Domestic Agencies join the ITER Deputy Director-Generals. It is an action-focused forum that, for the first time, fully engages all ITER Domestic Agencies in the strategic decision-making process for the project.

Going public with your personal view on ITER seemed a major step towards external communication. Are there more changes to come with regard to ITER’s public relations?

We owe communication to the public, and by “public” I mean the stakeholders of the ITER Members, the general public, the fusion community, industry, the communities closest to the ITER site etc. Along with our weekly publication Newsline and our quarterly ITER Magazine, we are now working in close collaboration with the seven Domestic Agencies and the French agency for ITER (Agence ITER France) to publish a newsletter in eight different languages that will provide a vision of project milestones on a regular basis. A new Head of Communication (Editor’s note: US-American Laban Coblentz), will take up his duty on 1st of September.

Bernard Bigot (Picture: ITER Organization)

Bernard Bigot (Image: ITER Organization)

The Management Assessment Team review on ITER in 2013 revealed that “detrimental behaviours, demotivated staff and cynicism” surfaced – how will you manage to enthuse ITER’s staff again?

I won’t deny this reality. But I cannot and will not accept “detrimental behaviours” and “cynicism”. We are collectively engaged in one of the most daunting challenges in human history and such attitudes are simply not tolerable. Demotivation, although regrettable, is something different. It can be the result of personal frustration with bureaucracy or with line management. This can be fixed.
My door is open and everyone is welcome to discuss matters directly with me. And I must say that, since 5th of March, many people have passed through my door and many an issue has been solved this way. ITER is no ordinary venture. I hope that everyone in the project is fully conscious of the historical dimensions of the challenge we are taking up. Working for ITER is a privilege we must all be worthy of.

ITER is the key facility of the European Fusion Roadmap. How will the European fusion programme be affected by the change in ITER’s schedule?

Once we have developed a more quantitative analysis of the revised ITER schedule, it will be easier to see how the European fusion programme will adapt to the delay. A collaborative approach drawing on the extensive knowledge and expertise in the European fusion programme will be good preparation for ITER operation and will support the efficient implementation of the ITER Research Plan.

How can JET support ITER in the near future?

I would clearly like to develop an even closer collaboration between the ITER experts and their counterparts in the EUROfusion programme in order to make the most effective preparations for ITER operation. Given its very specific capabilities, JET is able to make a substantial contribution to these preparations, and a deepening of our collaboration is warranted. In the near future, JET’s experimental programmes on developing plasmas with high fusion performance, studying disruptions and disruption mitigation, investigating ELM control techniques, and characterising plasma wall interactions with the ITER-like wall can be of particular value in providing input to address some of ITER’s short-term issues.

Statement from Tony Donné, EUROfusion Programme Manager

With the release of the ‘roadmap to the realisation of fusion energy’ in 2012, ITER’s way to fusion has become an integral part of the European fusion research programme in Horizon 2020. ITER is the culmination of all previous efforts and the only device to prove that fusion energy can be realised. The expertise is widely spread throughout Europe. Twenty-nine consortium members and more than 100 third-parties linked to them, depend more than ever on ITER’s success.
I therefore take the liberty to speak for the European fusion community and underpin our strong support for ITER. What is more, I personally appreciate the remarkably frank statement of Bernard Bigot in Nature. I believe that putting the finger on weaknesses and wrongdoing is painful but it is the only cure to help the patient to robust recovery. Since 2012, we have been implementing the eight missions of the roadmap. We will soon prepare a revised version on the basis of the experiences made. Additionally, we are going to adapt the roadmap to ITER’s needs and new schedule. Herewith, I want to make it clear that we back Bernard Bigot and the colleagues in the ITER Organization and will continue to pursue the dream of fusion with all our energy.Signature-TonyDonne-blue

Tony Donné



Dr Bernard Bigot was appointed Director-General of the ITER Organization on 5 March 2015. The former University Professor of Physical Chemistry at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon and Administrator General of the CEA (since January 2009) was delegated by the French government in 2008 to act as High Representative for the implementation of ITER. Bernard Bigot has contributed to more than 70 scientific publications on quantum physical chemistry and about 25 articles on energy policy.