ST PAUL-LEZ-DURANCE, France (14 May 2022) - Dr Bernard Bigot, Director-General of the ITER Organization passed away on 14 May 2022 due to illness. An inspirational leader for more than four decades across multiple fields of science and energy, his personal 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, Dr Bigot's careful design and preparation of the ITER senior management team in recent years gives reassurance of the project's continued success. His deputy, Dr Eisuke Tada - a widely respected leader in the fusion community and a seasoned veteran from ITER's earliest days - will take over leadership of the project while the ITER Council launches the search for a long-term successor to Dr Bigot.
Dr Bigot assumed office as Director-General in March 2015 at a critical point in ITER's history. 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 skepticism 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. While still a work in progress, the ITER facility is more than 75% complete toward First Plasma. Each of ITER's Members - China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States - has completed First-of-a-Kind components that have required unprecedented engineering innovation in multiple fields, from materials science and electromagnetism to cryogenics and robotics. In the past two years, despite the onslaught of 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, a constant progression from milestone to milestone.
This dramatic realignment of the ITER project profile has been widely - and correctly - attributed to Dr Bigot's transformational leadership. As stated by Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director-General for Energy of the European Commission and current Chair of the ITER Council, "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."
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Dr Bigot held senior positions in research, higher education and government, including contributions to ITER and fusion for more than 20 years. Prior to his appointment at ITER, he completed two terms as Chairman and CEO of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), a government-funded technological research organization with ten research centres across France and a workforce of 16,000 focused broadly on low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. Still earlier, Dr Bigot served as France's High commissioner for Atomic Energy, an independent scientific authority that advises the French President and the French government on nuclear and renewable energy policy across many domains.
Dr Bigot was trained at the École normale supérieure, one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions in France and held an agrégation (highest-level teaching diploma in France) in physical science and a PhD in chemistry. He was a high-ranking university professor at the École normale supérieure de Lyon, which he helped to establish and which he directed for several years. The author of more than 70 publications in theoretical chemistry, Bernard Bigot was also in charge of research at the École normale supérieure, Director of the Institut de recherche sur la catalyse (a CNRS laboratory specializing in catalysis research) and President of the Maison de la Chimie foundation. In March 2022, he had been elected to the Académie des technologies.
In recognition of these and many other career achievements, Dr Bigot received numerous awards. These included his status as a Commander in the French Order of the Legion of Honour, a Commander in the Royal Swedish Order of the Polar Star, an Officer of the French Order of the National Merit, the holder of the Gold and Silver Star in the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, and the recipient of the China Friendship Award.
Beyond these achievements and accolades, Dr Bigot will be remembered as a visionary leader, intensely focused on the enhancement of global society and the desire to leave the world a better place. Energy, he recognized, was fundamental to this legacy: "I've always been concerned with energy issues. Energy has long been the driver of social and economic development. Yet 80 percent 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 hold in our hands the promise of a clean energy resource for millions of years. Harnessing hydrogen fusion is an opportunity we cannot miss."
Bernard Bigot was a man of duty and service, who placed loyalty above all virtues, a deeply human leader as demanding of others as he was of himself. He will be deeply missed.
In the course of his long and distinguished career, Bernard Bigot held senior positions in research, higher education and government. A chemist by training, he was first and foremost a dedicated high-level public servant. From the creation of the École normale supérieure de Lyon, which he helped to establish in the 1980s, to positions at ministerial level in science, technology, research and education for successive French governments, as France's High Commissioner for Atomic Energy (2003-2009), and as Chairman and CEO of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (2009-2012 and 2012-2015), Mr Bigot used his intelligence, his creativity, his diplomacy and an impressive capacity to work to bring about what he hoped would be "un monde meilleur" (a better world).
In this "monde meilleur," energy - as a motor for human and social development - occupied a central role. The ITER international research program, which he accepted to lead from 2015, clearly fell within this category. Starting with a series of profound structural and managerial reforms, Bernard Bigot put the project on a path to success that continues today.
Despite the volume of work related to ITER, Bernard Bigot remained deeply attached to a number of institutions and associations that he believed in and that he supported in various ways. He was president of the non-profit foundation of the Maison de la Chimie in Paris, an international centre for chemistry. He was a member of the board of directors of the chemistry and chemical engineering school CPE Lyon (École supérieure chimie physique électronique de Lyon), and president of the Université de Lyon foundation. He followed with interest the scientific work of the Institut Mérieux (biology), the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine (human paleontology), and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation (planetary health). He had recently been elected to the French Academy of Technologies (Académie des technologies).
Bernard Bigot was a Commander in the French Order of the Legion of Honour, an Officer of the French Order of the National Merit, and a Commander in the Royal Swedish Order of the Polar Star. He was the recipient of the Gold and Silver Star in the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun and was recently awarded the Chinese Government Friendship Award.
Always ready to exchange with media representatives, politicians, economists, VIPs, or simple visitors, he knew how to make complex subjects understandable and meaningful. His enthusiasm was communicative.
Bernard Bigot was a visionary. Demanding in his expectations of others, and even more of himself, he valued loyalty above all else. Under an exterior that could appear austere, he was a profoundly human man.
Well beyond ITER and the international research community, his passing will be felt as a tremendous loss.