Ignacio Prieto Díaz


Text: Beatriz Lamela Pascua| Photos: Ignacio Prieto Díaz

Ignacio Prieto Diaz, Industrial Engineer and Master in Nuclear Technology, worked for 11 years at Iberdrola Ingeniería y Construcción, in the Instrumentation and Control Department of the Nuclear Generation Division, participating in the design, installation and commissioning of multiple international nuclear power plant projects. After his participation in the ITER Support Contract, carrying out tasks related to the definition of the Tokamak investment protection strategy, he became part of the ITER project, moving to Cadarache (south of France).

Photo pre-pandemic by COVID-19

How many years have you been in your current responsibility at ITER?

In 2014 I arrived to Cardarache (France) through a support contract with Iberdrola Ingeniera, and in 2018 I applied for a position as ITER Staff.

What are the main activities of your current position?

My job is within the team responsible for the system in charge of ITER Investment protection (Interlocks system). This Instrumentation and Control system is in charge of the protection of the machine in case of component failure or an inadequate operation of the systems.

I work in a 12 people team based in France, but we have external support from India, South Korea, Spain and Italy.

Our work area has two objectives:

  • Understand the global operation of the machine (Tokamak) and its different interactions with the rest of the systems, in order to define the necessary protection measures. In this context, I am the scientific secretary of the “Machine Protection Panel”, which is a group of experts that meets regularly and tries to reach agreements on the appropriate protections.
  • Build the high integrity system, which coordinates the protection of the machine with more than 40 systems designed and supplied by the ITER member. My mission is the Technical Coordinator, who provides a transversal vision of the protection system and achieve homogeneity of the different designs.

How did the move influence your family / personal life?

The first year I was alone in France and, as I am a very familiar person, it was very hard. After that year, the whole family settled in France, and I have to say that it has been a very enriching experience.

I have 2 children, aged 11 and 8, and they have been in France longer than in Spain. For them it has been a very positive change, they study in an international school where there is an impressive cultural variety and they are fully integrated into French and Spanish culture.

What are the most significant aspects of your work at ITER?

The main objective of ITER is to demonstrate that fusion plasmas can be operated reliably to produce energy. This project is unique, on the one hand, it represents an incomparable technical challenge, forcing you to continuously learning new technologies (superconductors, vacuum, cryogenics, high voltage power electronics, etc.), and a managerial challenge, due to that the supply strategy involves the 35 member countries. To be able to work in such an international environment, it is very important to have a great communication capacity, empathy and flexibility to understand the different motivations and cultural background of each company / institution that participates in the project.

What details do you miss from Spain?

Many things! On one hand, relationships in the office are different, people are more private, it is difficult to achieve friendship. We are foreigners and you have to adapt to local customs.

Social interaction in private life is also different. The street culture that we have in Spain does not exist in France, you have to plan leisure activities well in advance, and it is quite shocking at first. They offer you dinner plans 2 months in advance!

However, in France there is a highly developed associative culture, there is a great variety of cultural and sports activities in practically any area, no matter how rural is the area where you live. These associations work with volunteers, so the cost is very low. Outdoor activity occupies a very important part of leisure time in France.

Here in France the schools have two weeks of vacation every 6 weeks, so practically every two months we go back to Spain for a week. What make us easier to keep in touch with Family and Friends.

Do you invite young people to broaden their professional horizons outside our borders?

Of course! However, you also have to take into account that at the beginning it is a complicated experience with a social cost. When you move to another country you lose a lot of support from family and friends, and arriving in a new environment always requires adaptation.

Nevertheless, from my experience, that the initial effort is rewarded with a whole life experience, your mind opens, and you learn that there are other ways of doing certain things and living life.

Finally, remind you that the project is located in Provence, south of France. That it is an impressive area and you can always arrange a visit to ITER: https://www.iter.org/visiting

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