Passing of ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot

1 July 2022

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Dr Bernard Bigot, Director-General of the ITER Organization sadly passed away in May due to illness. An inspirational leader for more than four decades across multiple fields of science and energy, his dedication and commitment to ITER over the past seven years shaped every aspect of the project. While his untimely passing will be felt as a tragic blow to the global fusion community, his preparation of the ITER senior management team in recent years gives reassurance of the project’s continued success. His deputy, Dr Eisuke Tada will take over leadership of the project while the ITER Council now searches for a long-term successor

Dr Bigot assumed office as Director-General in 2015 at a critical point in ITER’s history. The project was experiencing difficulties, reflecting the managerial challenges inherent in both its complex, First-of-a- Kind engineering and its multinational approach to design, manufacturing, and construction. Multiple ITER Members were skeptic about the project’s viability, with some openly questioning their continued participation. Dr Bigot accepted these challenges with humility and unwavering resolve, proposing a multifaceted action plan that would execute sweeping reforms in its decision-making, project management and culture.

While still a work in progress, the ITER facility is more than 75% complete towards its First Plasma. Members from China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the US have completed First-of-a-Kind components that have required unprecedented engineering innovation in multiple fields, from materials science and electromagnetism to cryogenics and robotics. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, these components have steadily arrived at the ITER site, over land and sea, from three continents, each finding their place within the ITER installation. Multiple support systems are now complete and beginning commissioning. The assembly of the ITER tokamak is ongoing.

“The impact of Bernard Bigot’s leadership of the ITER project has been singular and without precedent; his courage, personal commitment, and sheer force of will have restored ITER to its rightful place as a hallmark of scientific and technological achievement. It reflects Dr Bigot’s conviction regarding the promise of fusion energy as a safe and secure source of clean energy for future generations. We are devastated by this tragic loss, and we will honour Dr Bigot’s legacy with our ongoing commitment to ITER’s success,” said Massimo Garribba, deputy Director-General for Energy, the European Commission and current chair of the ITER Council.

Prior to ITER, Dr Bigot completed two terms as chairman and CEO of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and served as France’s High commissioner for Atomic Energy. In his own words he said: “Energy has long been the driver of social and economic development. Yet 80% of the energy consumed in the world comes from fossil fuels, and we all know this resource will not last forever. With fusion energy, we hold in our hands the promise of a clean energy resource for millions of years. Harnessing hydrogen fusion is an opportunity we cannot miss.”

Jennifer Eagle, editor

Jennifer Eagle