It was a big conference: more than 1000 participants, with a big involvment alsor from the industry. The main topic was of course ITER, but there were also a lot of results concerning other facilities: W7X, KSTAR, EAST, RFX…
It was also the first talk of Pr. Motojima, the new ITER director, in front of a big part of the fusion community. My feeling was that he had difficulties in the presentation: whether it comes from difficulties in english or from an incomplete knowledge of the topic, it has to say. Some colleagues of mine suggested it was due to his lack of belief in the project. However, he also looks like how to manage things and doesn’t lack of a certain sense of humour. Therefore he is certainly the right man to improve the management of ITER, but the fact that his talk was not very inspiring is disturbing, at least for me, a basic scientist on the project. A lot of theories on project management insures that a project leader does not need to be charismatic. Yet, I like to dream, my colleagues like to dream. The development of ITER should be a balance of dream and hard-nosed management. Clearly, one part is missing: showing the construction of buildings and the digging of holes for the basement are of course a sign of how things progress but not an inspiring goal.
On the topic of management was also a very interesting talk from Pr. Wagner on the creation of the Large Scale Infrastructure Network: the main idea is that more and more facilities require a complex management and it is high time to establish common reference in methods to develop these infrastructures where both research and industry are involved. The LHC is a good reference of the success of such a facility (there were flaws, problems, but it works). People ask why it is not possible to adopt the same strategy on ITER. The problem is that behind the LHC is the CERN association with 50 years of experience; the structure is unified, with members sharing the same objectives. In comparison, ITER is less than 10 years old. Creating and nurturing a big entity require time. Changes are on course to improve the methods but it will certainly still have an impact on the timeline.
I do not know if ITER will be a success or not. But during this conference I felt that seeds were being sown, seeds for the future of big scale projects. We are learning, learning how to make research and industry cooperate, how to train young and older engineers and scientists, how to build a community around a common goal, how to manage a project where the technology is not mature. Even if ITER does not work, there will be a lot of spin-offs and not only in technology, but also in know-how. I think it deserves the effort accomplished.