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French scientist, leader of nuclear fusion project, dies at the age of 72

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Bernard Bigot, a French scientist who led a major international effort to demonstrate that nuclear fusion could be a sustainable source of energy, has died.

PARIS – Bernard Bigot, a French scientist who led a major international effort to demonstrate that nuclear fusion could be a sustainable source of energy, has died. He was 72 years old.

The organization behind the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, said Bigot died Saturday of an unspecified illness. The general director of the organization since March 2015, Bigot was approaching the middle of his second term, which would end in 2025.

An ITER statement described his death as a tragic blow to the global merger community.

His deputy, Eisuke Tada, will take over the ITER project while searching for Bigot’s successor.

Unlike existing separation reactors that produce radioactive waste and sometimes catastrophic fusion, proponents of fusion say it provides a clean and virtually unlimited supply of energy if scientists and engineers can utilize it.

ITER project members China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States are building a donut-shaped device called a tokamak in Saint-Paul-les-Durance in southern France. It is considered the largest scientific project in the world. The goal is to trap hydrogen that has been heated to 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million Fahrenheit) long enough to allow the atoms to coalesce together.

The process results in the release of large amounts of heat. While ITER will not produce electricity, scientists hope it will demonstrate that such a melting reactor can produce more energy than it consumes.

ITER is now more than 75% complete and scientists aim to start the reactor by early 2026.

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