Behind the Fusion Scene: Daiki Kikuchi

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What kind of work are you involved in at KF?
I am part of the Plant Technology Division, where I oversee various projects. My primary responsibilities include planning and managing the project scope, schedule, and costs, as well as coordinating with stakeholders and overseeing the project from inception to completion.

I joined KF in August 2022 on secondment from Chiyoda Corporation. Initially, I was working at 50% capacity, but since January 2023, I have been working full-time at KF, getting involved in a range of projects.

What brought you to KF?
It all began when I proposed fusion energy as a new business avenue through Chiyoda Corporation’s new business development programme. I was already interested in fusion energy and was considering how I could contribute to its realisation. Meanwhile, the company also felt that we should explore this field further, which led to my secondment.

Although I was aware of fusion energy, I initially thought its realisation was far off in the future. However, learning about the establishment of “Kyoto Fusioneering,” a Japanese fusion energy startup, and its advanced initiatives made me feel that it might come to fruition sooner than I had anticipated.

The culture at Chiyoda Corporation, which embraces employees’ voluntary challenges, combined with KF’s approach to fostering an industry in Japan by involving various sectors, enabled my secondment. I am delighted to work at KF, thanks to the flexible decisions of both companies. In the future, I hope to leverage the strengths of both companies to help bring about the early realisation of fusion energy.

What projects have you been involved in since your secondment?
The first project I was involved in was “UNITY-1,” a facility aimed at advancing fusion thermal cycle systems. Initially, the project was just getting off the ground, so I supported Mr. Ogawa, the project manager, with tasks such as scheduling, cost estimation, and supplier selection. Being able to help shape the foundation of the project shortly after joining KF has been invaluable, and I now draw on this experience as I manage the “UNITY-2” project.

“UNITY-2” is a facility designed to demonstrate the fusion fuel cycle systems in collaboration with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL). As the project manager on the KF side, I oversee the progress by maintaining close communication with the CNL representative, ensuring that we are aligned in our understanding and that the project progresses smoothly.

What have you felt through your experiences in the two “UNITY” projects?
I find it incredibly exciting to work with colleagues who have a wealth of experience. In the Plant Technology Division, we have many members who have been deeply involved in plant engineering and fusion energy research. As a project manager, I feel a great sense of fulfilment and excitement in uniting these diverse experiences and tackling challenges together.

Especially since “UNITY-2” is a joint project with CNL, we maintain close communication through a mix of online and offline meetings, ensuring we understand each other’s strengths and organizational cultures, despite the distance between Japan and Canada.

Additionally, I feel that I am growing as an engineer. The facility we are building for “UNITY-2” integrates various technologies, and with our limited team size, I often can be directly involved in creating design rules. While I sometimes encounter challenges, the advice from my team members often leads to new perspectives. The flat communication, regardless of position or job title, is one of the attractions of Kyoto Fusioneering.

What do you keep in mind when facing the challenges of advancing projects?
The projects KF is undertaking include many world-first challenges. Therefore, predicting the duration and costs until completion during the planning stage is not straightforward. Naturally, various difficulties arise throughout the project, and I need to determine the best way to address them. However, I leverage the skills of the project members and my project management experience to advance the project.

Additionally, the number of project members is limited, so each person must multitask. To ensure they don’t lose productivity, I make it a point to stay updated on the overall project situation in a timely manner.

What experiences at Chiyoda Corporation do you think leverage for your current role at KF?
At Chiyoda Corporation, I was primarily responsible for managing EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) projects for oil, gas, and chemical plants. During the construction phase, I was often entrusted with significant responsibilities and travelled around the world, including to the United States, China, and Qatar.

Living abroad offered many learning opportunities and interesting experiences, but it also came with its share of challenges. Personally, it took time to adapt to the culture of each country, and professionally, I had to manage engineers from various nationalities with different cultural backgrounds.

However, when a team composed of people with diverse experiences successfully comes together, it becomes truly powerful. Completing a massive plant as a team and seeing it in operation was incredibly fulfilling.

The sense of accomplishment and emotion after overcoming difficulties in an international environment is something I find invaluable as we progress with the “UNITY-2” project with CNL.

Please share your thoughts on working as a project manager.
Through project management, I aim to complete challenging projects that enhance people’s lives and contribute to societal development. This burning desire has been with me since I was a student.

Looking back to my childhood, I was always fascinated by the things and systems around me. After graduating from junior high school, I went on to study at a technical college. As I learned about manufacturing, I realized I wanted to be involved in the fundamental aspects of life. After considering what is essential for people’s lives, I arrived at energy and majored in bioenergy at university.

After obtaining my master’s degree, I joined Chiyoda Corporation because I was interested in energy-related engineering and its contribution to global energy development.

I am genuinely happy to contribute to enhancing people’s lives through energy plant construction projects, a goal I have had since I was a student, and I take great pride in this work.

However, I also constantly face the accompanying responsibilities and pressures. For example, in overseas plant construction projects, in addition to project-specific challenges, external factors such as price fluctuations, regulatory changes, and supply chain disruptions often prevent plans from progressing as expected.

When the impact affects the morale of the engineers on-site, it can lead to a vicious cycle, so I pay close attention to management. I firmly believe that cooperation as a team, rather than individual effort, is necessary to achieve major projects. It is crucial to unite and align team members to solve problems, especially in difficult situations. This is where the skills of a project manager are truly tested.

Finally, please talk about your goals at KF.
My primary goal is the completion of “UNITY-2.” Since the project started in 2023, it has been progressing at an incredible pace every day. Without being overwhelmed by the speed, I aim to complete “UNITY-2” by collaborating with CNL and our in-house engineers as a consolidated team. In the future, I wish to contribute to solving the global energy problem. Having lived in Japan for a long time, I deeply understand the seriousness of this issue and am committed to addressing it. I believe fusion energy is the key to resolving this problem, so I will do my best at Kyoto Fusioneering to achieve what I can.

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