Norbert Holtkamp

Norbert Holtkamp

Principal Deputy Director-General, ITER Organization, St-Paul-lez-Durance, France

Imagine if life on Earth wasn’t dependant on the sun… that the Earth had its own sun, serving as a giant local energy plant. ITER is a research and engineering project that aims at making this a reality. Working to translate today’s studies of plasma physics into tomorrow’s electricity-producing fusion plants, ITER addresses one of the key challenges that our civilization will have to face over the next decades: how to provide sufficient, clean energy in the context of diminishing fossil resources and increasing demand for energy. “Iter” means “the way” in Latin. The ITER Project hopes to show “the way” to harnessing nuclear fusion as a power source for our future. Physicist Norbert Holtkamp (1961), an internationally-acclaimed expert in the field of highenergy colliders and linear accelerators, is the Principal Deputy Director-General of ITER, the first multinational, multibillion euro endeavour aiming to break into the future of energy.

Breaking the Wall of Fusion. How the ITER Project Aims for Limitless Energy



Norbert grabbing the sun

Fusion is the energy that powers the sun and the stars. Harnessing this energy is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Fusion will open the way to a safe and almost limitless source of energy.

Norbert picking up the talk there, introducing himself…and the ITER project!

1 – ITER Organization - Breaking political walls


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Norbert Holtkamp, I am the Principal Deputy Director-General of the ITER Organization.

ITER is the Latin word for ‘the way’. The ITER project has been established to demonstrate that fusion is scientifically and technologically feasible.

ITER is not only one of the most innovative science projects in the world today, it is also a prototype for international collaboration: The seven ITER member states China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States – together representing half the world’s population – have joined their forces and their knowledge to develop fusion as a safe source of energy.

The ITER project brings together people who were once separated by this very wall whose collapse we are celebrating today. So – in a way - the story of ITER is a story of Walls, some of them Falling and some have to stand… rather withstand the challenging environment of the fusion process.

Wall Graffiti

From my own personal memory as a student at BESSY here in Berlin I very much remember the Berlin Wall. It was a wall that divided Germany into East and West and the entire political world. “It is not a German question alone,”  Ronald Reagan (Trabi kommt ins Bild) said in his famous speech at the Brandenburger Tor on 12 June 1987, which was the start of a new friendship and the beginning of the end of the wall.

O-Ton Reagan…

Title of Times Magazine

It were the same political leaders who again entered the stage at the Geneva Superpower Summit in November 1985. There, General Secretary Gorbachev proposed to President Reagan an international project aimed at developing fusion energy for peaceful purposes. The idea for the ITER project was born.

Footage of summit in Geneva

Following years of negotiation,  the idea finally became reality in November 2006. At a ceremony at the Elysée Palace in Paris, hosted by the French President Jacques Chirac and the President of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso, representatives of the seven ITER Members signed the ITER Agreement. Seven parties started a unique adventure that will lead us to the frontiers of science and technology.

So what does ITER stand for? Our goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to produce commercial energy from fusion, a process that powers the sun and the stars. To produce at least ten times more power then we need to operate: Or – yes, we scientists believe in equations:  .

≥500/50  =  Q≥10   enough to support a medium size city if operated steady state

Since 2006 more than 400 people from 27 nations have been hired to work at the ITER Headquarters in Cadarache, and many more in the Member states. Not to forget the fusion laboratories and research institutes worldwide that run important experiments and that do much of the qualification and quality assurance testing for ITER.

You can see ITER here compared to a human being

All together we are constructing the biggest fusion furnace ever built, a device based on the tokamak concept – a Russian acronym that stands for ‘toroidal chamber with magnetic coils’.

Footage of ITER today…ending with Tokamak video-clip

2 – Fusion - Breaking physical walls

Animation of a tokamak (evtl. ZDF), Plasma inside

In a tokamak, a gaseous mixture of deuterium and tritium is confined by strong magnetic fields and brought to a temperature of 200 million degrees Celsius – more than 10 times the temperature in the core of the sun.

Why do we need such high temperatures? Well, that brings me to the second wall in my talk. It is a wall that will not fall easily, but that we do need to overcome in order to achieve fusion energy: This wall is the Coulomb barrier, the force that keeps equally-charged atoms apart.

What happens naturally in the sun thanks to its enormous mass, can not happen that easily down here on Earth. Indeed, we have to use a whole potpourri of tools to be able to utilize Mother Nature: First we heat hydrogen nuclei until they form a plasma,. Electrons and protons are separated from each other. Then we squeeze the plasma into shape using a strong magnetic field created by large superconducting magnets.

Using deuterium and tritium, the two isotopes of the hydrogen atom, the same process allows nuclei to fuse. When they collide with each other, Helium is the ash that is produced while liberating energy.

3 – The ITER Wall – as an example for the technological challenges of producing fusion energy (the one wall we don’t want to see falling)

Egbers animation

The resulting Helium atom  is not just lost but remains confined within the plasma and keeps heating it. A burning plasma is created. Some 80% of the energy produced is carried away from the plasma by the neutrons which have no electrical charge and are therefore unaffected by magnetic fields. The neutrons are absorbed by the surrounding walls of the tokamak, transferring their energy to the walls where water is being heated.

That brings me to the ITER wall, which is a verily engineering challenge – and certainly a wall I don’t want to see falling.

The ITER wall surrounding the plasma has to withstand extreme heat loads – between A heat load similar to a hundred thousand light bulbs shining one each square meter-, electromagnetic forces comparable to the weight of 50 lorries, and intense neutron radiation from the fusion reaction slowly degrading the structural stability of the wall. The choice of materials is therefore essential, as you can imagine. In fact it is one of the few key questions left for the commercial use of fusion power.

Images of JET, Asdex, Wendelstein

The materials we will see in ITER are the result of many years of research & development conducted in fusion labs and institutes around the world: At the Joint European Torus (JET) in the UK, at Asdex-Upgrade and Wendelstein 7X, the two the flagships of the Max-Planck-Society in Garching and Greifswald and of course the important fundamental research that is being done at the Research Centers in Karlsruhe and Juelich.

First Wall stands out

For example, we have decided to cover the first layer of the ITER wall with beryllium. A material resistant to neutron damage, providing excellent heat conductivity and little disturbance to burning plasma. Important features as it is here where the neutrons hit first.

Blanket module stands out

Tiles will be attached to blanket modules, which are solid steel structures each weighing 4,5 tons. It is in these steel-blocks where the neutrons are slowed down and where heat is generated. It is THIS heat that will be used to put power on the grid generated by future fusion power plants.

Animation of Procurement Sharing

All 440 blanket shield modules will be manufactured by six out of the seven ITER Members following the procurement sharing, a fundamental concept of the ITER collaboration. All components, the blanket, the magnets and even the vacuum vessel are manufactured by the parties. They are shipped then to Cadarache and assembled in place.

Each party will have to build a little bit of everything therefore establishing the industrial infrastructure to be able to build it all in the future. –Certainly not the most efficient way to build a plant, but the most effective way to establish the future of commercial Fusion Power.


Road to ITER (itinerary), Headquarters panel, Arial view of the site, site work, manufacturing (conductors..) and animation of what the site will look like in future

As you can see on the screen behind me, the road to ITER is paved, the 40 hectar platform that will hold the world’s biggest fusion furnace is ready. Manufacturing of the first components has begun.

This is the experiment that will ultimately tell us if fusion is an option for wide-scale energy production.

Fusion is safe, its fuel is widely abundant and available for everyone and fusion does not release carbon into the atmosphere.

Knowing what is at stake, we cannot fail….

Thank you very much for your attention!

End titles, credits


Zoom out of Cadarache into space…