Budgeting for Fusion in France

photo 2

Francom and two of his children vacationing in the Alps.

MPA Alum Joins Multinational Project

MPA alumnus Michael Francom looks to the power of the sun for inspiration in his work. As a budget officer for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), he and his team support the building of a nuclear fusion reactor that will create power the same way the sun does, combining particles to generate massive amounts of energy.

“If this project is successful, we will have a safer, more cost-effective way of producing power,” Francom says. “It will make a huge difference in the way the world views energy.”

An international project funded by China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States, ITER is based in southern France, far from Francom’s native Utah. Francom says the move has not been easy, but he has enjoyed the challenge of working overseas.

“Mike has worked hard to master the complex financial and project management systems of ITER and to gain the trust of the managers he supports as a financial officer,” says Joseph Onstott, budget section leader within the finance division of the department of administration. “He brings a positive attitude to meetings and has done a superb job communicating problems or issues.”

Clear communication is key, Francom says, since only 9 percent of employees at ITER are from the United States. Meetings are microcosms of the United Nations with employees from around the world working together for a common goal.

“It’s been interesting working with leadership in the Office of the Director General and the Department of Administration because you get to see and work on issues that affect a huge multinational project,” Francom says. “It’s an informative place to be.”

Francom, who graduated from the Marriott School in 2003, had been looking for an opportunity to work overseas when he heard ITER was in need of a budget officer based in France. Neither he nor his wife, Meredith, spoke French, but they were excited about the potential of living in Europe with their four children. He got the job, and in 2013 his family made the move from Provo to the French village of Gréoux-les-Bains.

It’s been an exciting year, Francom says, and the family is looking forward to spending the next four years in France as he finishes his contract. Outside of the office, the Francoms have taken advantage of living in the South of France, enjoying vacations in neighboring countries and spending time hiking in the Alps.

The benefits extend far beyond the idyllic location, however. Francom’s enthusiasm for work is also fueled by his knowledge that ITER can make a difference in powering the world.

“Many people don’t know that nuclear energy is everywhere, and we use it a lot,” Francom says. “If we can make it cleaner, safer, and more readily available, then that’s a great thing. I’d love to be able to tell my children and grandchildren that the project worked, and the power they’re using right now is made from nuclear fusion.”