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Rich Hawryluk recalls “exciting and challenging” years working on ITER

What is it like to be at the center of ITER, the huge international fusion experiment that is under construction in Cadarache, France? “It’s both exciting and challenging,” said physicist Rich Hawryluk, who recently returned to PPPL after a two-year stint as deputy director-general for the Administration Department of ITER. “It’s exciting in the scope and scale of this effort, and challenging in bringing such a large project to completion.”

Hawryluk had many diverse responsibilities at ITER. He oversaw functions ranging from human resources to finance and budgeting to procurement and information technology. “A project this large is almost a continuous cycle of oversight and reviews,” said Hawryluk. “You’re essentially going from one major review to another every few months, and this kept us extremely busy.”

Hawryluk arrived in Cadarache in April, 2011, a year after construction of the ITER complex began on a 445-acre site in 2010. Contracts now are being prepared and awarded to assemble the six-story-tall fusion facility, or tokamak, that will be at the heart of the complex.

Hawryluk is no stranger to exhaustive oversight duties. He served as head of PPPL’s Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor experiment from 1991 to 1997, and as deputy director of PPPL from 1997 to 2008. He also was a member of the U.S. delegation to the ITER Management Advisory Committee, which reports to the ITER Council. “But there’s a big difference between being an outsider on the advisory committee and dealing with day-to-day issues,” he said. “Getting immersed in and resolving the many issues that we had talked about was a major change.”

Among the key challenges was recruiting scientists, managers and other staffers from all seven partners in the ITER venture, whose participating countries represent more than half the world’s population. Funding the $20-billion-plus project are China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States. “We wanted to have top-notch people working on ITER and a diversity drawn from the member states,” said Hawryluk. Expansion of the ITER Organization, which is building and will operate the fusion experiment, was another challenge during this period.

Hawryluk was struck by the extent of local community support for ITER. Neighboring locales have put up nearly 467 million euros, or some $600 million, to build schools, roads and other infrastructure improvements that benefit ITER. “This was a real testament to support for this major international project by the local community,” Hawryluk said.

The European Union, which is shouldering 45 percent of the cost of ITER, remains strongly committed as well. The EU allocated a supplementary 1.3 billion euros, or $1.7 billion, of additional support for ITER for 2012-2013, despite the financial crisis that has engulfed European economies

in recent years. The impact of the investment is clearly growing. “Go to the ITER site and you’ll see an extremely large construction activity under way,” Hawryluk said. “Go around the world and you’ll see factories being set up to build major components for ITER. And this is all taking place on a scale that was previously unheard of in the fusion program.”

Key contributors to ITER include PPPL, which contracts with US ITER headquarters at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to perform critical functions. These include designing certain diagnostic and electromagnetic systems for the ITER tokamak, and procuring the electrical power supplies for the tokamak building, which will stand some 30 feet taller than the 162-foot-high Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

On a personal level, Hawryluk found the local French community to be highly hospitable despite his linguistic shortcomings. Though Hawryluk took classes in French, he never really mastered it. “But people, like the local baker and doctor, went out of their way to be very helpful.” Fortunately at work, everyone spoke English.

While stationed at ITER, Hawryluk maintained a 4,000-mile commuting relationship with his wife, Mary Katherine, a school psychologist who stayed in New Jersey to work with special-needs students at the New Road School in Parlin. The couple mainly kept in touch through the video messaging system iChat. Joining some online chats were sons David, an Apple employee in Los Angeles, and Kevin, a senior at the University of Michigan.

Reflecting on ITER and his two years there, Hawryluk observed, “In a world where there’s vigorous debate about everything, there has still been strong financial support for ITER. And it will be important for the project to maintain that support by continuing to demonstrate progress. The world needs new energy sources, and we have a unique opportunity to determine if fusion will be part of the solution.”

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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