ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot passes away

16 May 2022

Tributes have been paid to ITER Organization Director-General Dr Bernard Bigot, after his death at the age of 72 was announced by the organisation which is building the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor fusion project in southern France.

Bernard Bigot, pictured in October 2021 (Image: ITER)

From 2003 to 2009 Bernard Bigot served as France's High Commissioner for atomic energy, an independent scientific authority whose mission is to advise the French President and the French government on nuclear and renewable energy policy and in all the other scientific and technological domains where the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) intervenes. Prior to his appointment at ITER, Bigot completed two terms (2009-2012 and 2012-2015) as Chairman and CEO of the CEA.

Bernard Bigot has been closely associated with ITER since France's bid to host the project in 2003. Following the ITER site decision in 2005, the signature of the ITER Agreement in 2006 and its ratification by all members in 2007, he was delegated by the French government to act as High Representative for the implementation of ITER in France, a position that he has occupied since 2008.

The ITER Council appointed Bernard Bigot Director-General of the ITER Organization on March 2015. In January 2019, it renewed its confidence in him, voting to reappoint him to a second five-year term (2020-2025).

"Dr Bigot assumed office as Director-General in March 2015 at a critical point in ITER's history," ITER noted. "The project was experiencing significant 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 expressing their scepticism 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 - above all - project culture.

"More than seven years later, ITER stands as a monumental example of scientific and engineering prowess, a unique testimony to the merits of international collaboration and a triumph of human aspiration ... This dramatic realignment of the ITER project profile has been widely - and correctly - attributed to Dr Bigot's transformational leadership."

Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director-General for Energy of the European Commission and current Chair of the ITER Council, said: "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."

On his long experience in the field of energy, Bigot had said: "I've always been concerned with energy issues. Energy is the key to mankind's social and economic development. Today, 80% of the energy consumed in the world comes from fossil fuels and we all know that this resource will not last forever. With fusion energy we have a potential resource for millions of years. Harnessing it is an opportunity we cannot miss."

Bernard Bigot was a Commander in the French Order of the Legion of Honour, a Commander in the Royal Swedish Order of the Polar Star, and an Officer of the French Order of the National Merit. In October 2014 he received the Gold and Silver Star in the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, and in September 2019 he received the Chinese Government Friendship Award.

In a statement, ITER said: "While his untimely passing will be felt as a tragic blow to the global fusion community, Dr Bigot's careful design and preparation of the ITER senior management team in recent years gives reassurance of the project's continued success."

ITER Deputy Director-General Eisuke Tada will take over leadership of the project while the ITER Council launches the search for a long-term successor to Dr Bigot.

"On behalf of the global nuclear industry, and on my own behalf, I send my deepest condolences to Dr Bigot's family, the ITER colleagues and to the entire nuclear fusion community," World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León said. "Bernard's vision, leadership and expertise have been instrumental to move the ITER project forward and to reignite excitement about fusion energy. His passion and commitment will be missed."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News