The international ITER initiative was launched in 1985. The ITER agreement was concluded in 2007 and the ITER organisation was officially established.

The unique scientific cooperation emanated from talks in 1985 between Soviet Secretary-General Gorbachev, French President Mitterand, and American President Reagan. Planning commenced in spring 1988 at Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Garching, as host laboratory. Till winter 1990 about 50 physicists and engineers from Europe, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and the United States worked on the ITER concept and submitted the design for the test reactor in December 1990.

The detailed planning (Engineering Design Activity), started in July 1992, occupied about 240 ITER personnel from all over the world. During the six years of detailed planning a joint team of international experts worked at three fusion centres: in San Diego, USA, at the Japanese fusion laboratory in Naka, and, again, at IPP in Garching. Each of these centres was responsible for a particular aspect of the planning: Garching for the components inside the plasma vessel (shielding and blanket, first wall, and divertor), Naka for the components outside the plasma vessel (superconducting coils and support structure), and San Diego for safety studies and coordination. The meetings of the supervisory board – the ITER Council – took place in Moscow.

The ITER Central Team was supported by groups in the respective national laboratories of the four partners, which also performed the necessary research and development work. Like the ITER Central Team, the European ITER Home Team worked at Garching.

The Final Report, which presented the technical solution subscribed to by all parties, was submitted to the ITER Council in 1998; essential components were built as prototypes and tested. This provided the scientific and technical planning basis for deciding to build the device. However, in view of financial difficulties facing the participating countries the ITER Council decided to check whether the ITER design could be modified to save costs. In 1998 the USA withdrew from the project, but stayed with the ITER technology projects till mid-1999.

The partners remaining decided to modify the ITER design to save costs without compromising the programmatic aims of the project. The planning work on the basis of the approved preliminary design was completed in mid-2001.

Talks between the governments of the partners on joint construction of ITER were initiated in 1991. Their objective was to conclude an agreement settling the legal form of the international project, its organisation, site, personnel, and allocation of the costs and production contracts among the partners. In 2003 the USA rejoined the ITER cooperation, and China and South Korea also became partners.

2003 - 2007
Sites for ITER had been offered by Canada, France, Spain, and Japan. At the end of November 2003 the European Council of Ministers unanimously voted to nominate France's Cadarache site as Europe's sole proposal in the international negotiations. After Canada's proposal was withdrawn, the competition for siting ITER was between Rokkasho-Mura in the north of Japan and Cadarace in the south of France. After lengthy negotiations the decision to site ITER at Cadarache was taken at a meeting of the ITER partners in Moscow on 28 June 2005. The ITER agreement was signed in Paris on 21 November 2006; after ratification it became effective on 24 October 2007. The ITER Organisation was thus officially established.

In February 2007 Europe and Japan signed the Broader Approach Agreement. To complement the ITER project this joint research programme includes the engineering design activities for the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility (IFMIF), a Satellite Tokamak Programme involving construction of the Japanese tokamak device JT-60SA and the International Fusion Energy Research Centre (IFERC).

Construction works on the ITER site in Cadarache are starting.

The ITER Organisation announces completion of 50 percent of the total construction work scope through First Plasma, scheduled for December 2025 – including design, component manufacturing, building construction, shipping and delivery, assembly, and installation.

The official start of ITER assembly was celebrated in a virtual ceremony at the end of July 2020.

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