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To commission a facility as sophisticated as ITER it is necessary to proceed in small and gradual steps—checking each part before moving onto the next, and bringing together more and more pieces of the puzzle until the whole facility is working as one.

Systems commissioning is the final verification that each of the components and plant systems has been designed, manufactured and installed correctly. It is also an opportunity to transfer knowledge to the operations team, test all the procedures, and get ready to start the first experiments.

For First Plasma, the master commissioning schedule calls for systems to be brought into service in the following order: steady state electrical network (SSEN); central control system; liquid, gas and HVAC services; cooling water; cryoplant; electron cyclotron heating; vacuum pumping; fuelling; and coil power supplies.

Once power is available, the central control system will be turned on and made ready to control, monitor and record data from each of the systems to come. The first task for the control system will then be to start up the cooling water systems and the cooling towers, testing each pump and valve before starting the circulation and flow tests.

With power, control and cooling in place, operators will begin commissioning the production and distribution networks for various gases and liquids, as well as the air conditioning to remove heat generated by the plant in each building. Next in line are the nitrogen and helium production facilities in the cryogenic plant and the various auxiliary vacuum pumping systems.

The specialized Tokamak systems come next—the electron cyclotron system that generates megawatts of microwave energy to heat the plasma, cryogenic pumping systems able to produce ultra-high vacuum, and the power supplies needed to energize the superconducting magnets.

When all of these systems have passed their tests, the construction phase of ITER is complete and the operations phase of the project can begin with integrated commissioning, which tests that all systems are working together. All air will be evacuated out of the vacuum vessel and cryostat to bring the pressure inside to one millionth of normal atmospheric pressure; the magnets will be cooled down to -269 °C and energized to create the magnetic confinement field; and a tiny amount of hydrogen gas will be injected and heated up to produce a critical milestone for ITER—First Plasma.

Next, the teams will turn up the current on the magnets to full power and complete their stress testing under all the various field combinations. 

At that point, the ITER machine will be ready for the researchers.

Commissioning Facts:
Systems commissioning: 2018-2024
First system commissioned: steady state electrical network, SSEN (completed January 2019)
Commissioning underway now on: control systems; pulsed power electrical network, PPEN
Integrated commissioning: December 2024 to December 2025