The ITER platform in Cadarache in July 2008 after the start of levelling works. Photo: ITER Organization.
The beginning of site preparation work in January 2007 represented an important first milestone in the ten year-long construction process to build ITER. Site work was divided into two main phases: the clearing of 90 hectares; and the levelling of a vast platform to house the buildings and facilities of the ITER scientific experiments.
The work on the development of the ITER site was undertaken as part of commitments made by France as the Host country, and by Europe as the Host partner. Work was carried out under the responsibility of Agence ITER France (an entity of the CEA) for a total of EUR 150 million, financed 40 percent by Fusion for Energy (the European Domestic Agency) and 60 percent by France.
The ITER project is situated on a total of 180 hectares of land in St-Paul-lez-Durance, a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southern France that is already home to France's nuclear research centre, the CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique).
The most important feature of the ITER site today is the completed 42-hectare platform—the approximate size of 60 soccer fields—where the construction of the scientific buildings and facilities began in July 2010.
Preparatory site work took two years to complete, including clearing and levelling of 40 hectares for the ITER platform. Photo: Agence ITER France.
About 90 hectares were cleared for the ITER project, leaving half of the 180 hectare parcel in its original wooded state. This first phase of work took over one year to compete. Particular care was taken to protect the local fauna and flora; an ecological inventory was completed before starting the clearing works during which several plant and animal species were identified for protection in specific on-site zones. These included some types of bats, birds, beetles, butterflies, and a rare variety of orchid.
Archaeological surveys made by the French Institute INRAP followed, revealing several traces of the past in the soil of the ITER site. A lime kiln, a charcoal oven and remnants of a glass factory were discovered that dated from the 18th century. Alongside the public road during work for the ITER hydraulic network, several tombs were also found that were presumably part of a small necropolis dating to the 5th century A.D.
Site levelling works began in March 2008 and lasted one year. Photo: ITER Organization
Site levelling began in March 2008 and lasted one year. From the original valley ranging in altitude from 290 m to 335 m, there now stands a nearly perfectly flat platform at 315 metres above sea level, with only a slight grade in level for the evacuation of rain water.
The creation of this plane surface required the removal of 2.5 million metres³ of earth and rubble. Two-thirds was re-employed as backfill; extracted material was sorted and crushed and used in the construction of the platform. The remaining rubble was stored on site (its surface will be planted at a later date).
Top soil from the levelling operations was spread onto the embankments of the platform, covered with biodegradable mesh, and planted with a selection of local seeds—thyme, aster, grasses—that are intended to completely cover the perimeter of the ITER platform in green.
The platform for ITER scientific buildings and facilities was completed in April 2009. At 1 kilometre long by 400 metres wide—42 hectares in all—it is one of the largest man-made levelled surfaces in the world. In July, 2010, the notarial deed for the handover of the ITER site from the CEA to the ITER Organization was signed, transferring the ownership and responsibility of the site to the ITER Organization for the duration of the ITER Agreement (24 October 2042).