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When developing critical control system it is appropriate to resort to modeling, simulation and rapid prototyping tools since the early design phases. A design approach based on the rapid prototyping of the plant model can be effectively adopted when non-conventional or new control systems have to be developed, or when the required performance are very demanding. Furthermore, such an approach is the only one viable when the plant is not available yet and/or the testing on-site is very risky, which is usually the case for fusion experimental reactors (tokamaks). This paper presents a flexible architecture for the model-based design of control systems, which permits to perform rapid prototyping and hardware-in-the-loop validation. The proposed architecture has been recently adopted for the rapid prototyping of the Central Safety System for Nuclear Risk of the ITER tokamak.