Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium has doubled since the launch of Iran’s nuclear development program, Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said. Eslami praised parliament for passing a “strategic action plan to lift sanctions and protect the interests of the Iranian nation” in December 2020, saying the legislation contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear industry.
Under the plan, the AEOI was obliged to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes to the 20% level immediately following the approval of this law in accordance with the directives of Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. It obliged Iran to stockpile at least 120 kg of uranium inside Iran every year. AEOI was required to enrich uranium beyond 20%, if necessary, without delay. In November Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it had increased uranium enrichment to 60%.
The move was the latest to go far beyond the parameters of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which capped Iranian uranium enrichment at 3.67% in exchange for sanctions relief. The JCPOA was signed by the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany. However, in 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran’s economy, prompting Iran to increase uranium enrichment.
Eslami also said that a comprehensive document has been prepared for the development of industries and building domestic capacities in various industries of the country. He noted that the production of electricity by nuclear plants has provided Iran with considerable economic benefits, reducing fossil fuel consumption and preventing environmental damage. He said that the development of nuclear science would help many other fields like medicine and agriculture.
In October, Eslami said Iran aimed to increase nuclear production capacity to 10,000MWe without reliance on international partnerships. Currently, the VVER-1000 in Unit 1 of Bushehr NPP, built with Russian assistance, is the only NPP operating in Iran. Rosatom is currently building the second phase (Units 2 and 3) with a total capacity of 2,100MWe. Earlier in December, Iran launched the construction of an indigenously designed 300MWe Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) at Darkhovin.
Iran also has a smaller, older research reactor – the 5MWt Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) which was supplied by the US in 1967, but often faced fuel supply problems due to Western sanctions. Iran has now started construction of a 10 MW pool-type light water reactor nuclear research reactor of its own design in Isfahan. The reactor is designed for 20% enriched fuel and will be used for the production of medical isotopes as well as for testing nuclear fuel and materials for research.
Iran is also completing its indigenous IR-40 heavy water research reactor, which was almost complete before Iran signed the JCPOA. Under that agreement, Iran agreed to restructure IR-40 to reduce the amount of plutonium and the redesign was supported by experts from the UK and China. Progress on this is unclear, but in September 2021 Eslami said that the IR-40 should be operational “as soon as possible”.
Image: Centrifuges enriching uranium (courtesy Iran News Update)