Iran is on the verge of finishing work to dismantle its Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, paving the way for a complete lifting of international sanctions, officials said on Monday.
Iran Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the Iranian daily Etemad that the work will be completed in about a week, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Iran agreed to take apart the controversial reactor in exchange for sanctions relief as part of the landmark nuclear agreement hammered out with world powers last year.
“We have almost completed all undertakings based on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and no job has remained,” Kamalvandi said.
He added that remaining work “can be carried out in less than 7 days.”
A source told Fars that the central component of the reactor was removed.
“The heart of Arak Heavy Water Reactor was taken out today,” the source said. “The operation was accomplished today and the core has been filled with cement.”
The dismantling of the reactor, which can produce plutonium, thus giving Iran a second pathway to a nuclear weapon, was seen as a major sticking point during years of talks between Iran and world powers.
Under the deal, the plant was to be redesigned so as to not be able to produce weapons-grade material.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said he could not confirm the report that the reactor’s core had been sealed off.
Tehran is also required to curb the number of centrifuges it runs and send abroad its existing stockpiles of enriched uranium. In exchange, world powers were to lift punishing sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy for a decade.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday she expected sanctions against Iran to be lifted soon.
Speaking to reporters in Prague Monday, Mogherini said there was no date set yet but that “the implementation of the agreement is proceeding well.”
Mogherini said it was necessary that all agreed-upon steps be “properly done,” including the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But after consulting recently the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States she believed “things are going well” and the sanctions might be lifted “rather soon.”
Iran has always denied seeking nuclear arms, though an International Atomic Energy Agency report released last year found that Tehran did do work toward nuclear weapons until 2003 and continued some activities until 2009. Though Jerusalem said the report was proof of Iran’s ill intentions, officials said it gave them the go-ahead to forge ahead with the nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is set to issue a final report on Iranian compliance with the deal Iran signed with the so-called P5+1 powers — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. In its review the IAEA will include details of the Arak reactor shutdown.
The Iranian source said Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would issue a joint statement to declare Iran compliant following the IAEA report.
“And then it will be the six world powers’ turn to comply with their undertaking and remove the sanctions,” the source said.
According to FARS, Kamalvandi has indicated that various countries are keen to work with Iran on nuclear projects and also pointed out that AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi is scheduled to visit Hungary and the Czech Republic, journeys that come on the heels of his recent visits to Spain and Japan.
Another country probing cooperation with Iran is South Korea, the spokesman said.
AP contributed to this report.