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Bernard Bigot, a French scientist leading a vast international effort to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of energy, has died. He died at 72.

Bigot died from an illness, according to the organization behind the ITER. Bigot was nearing the halfway point of his second term, which was due to end in 2025.

ITER described his death as a tragic blow to the fusion community.

During the search for Bigot's successor, his deputy will take over leadership of the ITER project.

Proponents of fusion say it offers a clean and virtually unlimited supply of energy if scientists and engineers can harness it.

ITER project members include China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. It is the world's largest science project. The aim is to trap hydrogen that has been heated to 150 million degrees Celsius.

The process releases a lot of heat. Scientists hope that ITER will demonstrate that a fusion reactor can produce more energy than it consumes.

Scientists aim to fire up the reactor early in the 20th century.