Iran atomic chief says modernization work on heavy water reactor progressing

In message marking country’s national nuclear day, Ali Akbar Salehi also touts efforts to construct 2 new reactors at Bushehr plant

The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)
The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

The head of Iran’s atomic agency on Tuesday said work to modernize the Arak heavy water plant was progressing, as were efforts to construct two new reactors at the Bushehr nuclear plant.

“Modernization and completion of Khondab (Arak) heavy water reactor is underway based on the contents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted saying by the Fars news agency, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Salehi, who made the comments in a message marking the country’s national nuclear day, said Iran was pushing ahead with work in a number of fields related to its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.

He also said the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran made 122 new nuclear-related achievements over the last year, but did not give details on what these were.

In this photo released on Nov. 4, 2019, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the organization, speaks at a news conference after visiting Natanz enrichment facility, in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

As part of the international agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program, Iran removed the core of the Arak facility and filled part of it with cement.

Located southwest of Tehran, the reactor is being modernized with the help of British and Chinese experts.

Heavy water helps cool reactors, producing plutonium as a byproduct that can potentially be used in nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Last month, the Trump administration renewed several waivers on US sanctions against Iran, allowing foreign companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties, including the Arak reactor.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has steadily reimposed US sanctions on Iran that had been eased or lifted under its terms. The so-called “civilian-nuclear cooperation” waivers allow foreign companies to do work at some of Iran’s declared nuclear sites without becoming subject to US sanctions.

A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

Deal supporters say the waivers give international experts a valuable window into Iran’s atomic program that might otherwise not exist. They also say some of the work, particularly at the Tehran reactor on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine, is humanitarian in nature.

But Iran hawks in Congress have been pressing Pompeo to eliminate all the waivers, saying they should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons. The hawks most strenuously objected to the waiver that allowed work at Iran’s once-secret Fordow facility, which is built into a mountain.

Most Popular
read more: