Iran vows to restart activities at Arak heavy water facility

Tehran’s atomic agency chief briefs lawmakers on unraveling nuclear deal, as remaining signatories after US pullout set to meet in Vienna

A view of the heavy-water production plant in the central Iranian town of Arak, August 26, 2006. (AP/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)
A view of the heavy-water production plant in the central Iranian town of Arak, August 26, 2006. (AP/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on Sunday told Iranian lawmakers that the country will restart activities at the Arak heavy water facility, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing a lawmaker who was at the meeting.

Ali Akbar Salehi attended a parliamentary session to discuss recent developments in the 2015 nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of last year before reapplying harsh sanctions on Iran, prompting it to gradually reduce its own commitments to the pact.

The industrial complex at Arak in western Iran was a key topic in negotiations due to its nuclear reactor and heavy-water production facility, which were still under construction at the time.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in July warned European countries that if they are not able to provide enough economic incentives despite the US sanctions then Iran will restart construction of the Arak facility and bring it to the condition that “according to you, is dangerous and can produce plutonium.”

Heavy water is used as a coolant in nuclear reactors that produce plutonium, which when enriched can be used for nuclear weapons.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran’s atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Under the terms of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

In January Salehi told Iranian television that during the JCPOA negotiations Iran quietly purchased replacement parts for the Arak reactor because it knew that under the terms of the deal it would be required to destroy the original components. They kept that fact hidden during the JCPOA negotiations, he made clear, and also hid it from other Iranian officials.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since last year when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord and imposed the punishing sanctions. Washington says the JCPOA does not go far enough in preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons and also does not address Iran’s missile development program.

In retaliation, Iran said in May it would disregard certain curbs the deal set on its nuclear program and threatened to take further measures if remaining parties to the pact, especially European nations, did not help it circumvent the US sanctions.

In this photo released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), an Iranian Shahab-3 missile is launched during military maneuvers outside the city of Qom, Iran, Tuesday, June 28, 2011 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Ruhollah Vahdati)
An Iranian Shahab-3 missile launched during military exercises outside the city of Qom, Iran, in June 2011. (AP/ISNA/Ruhollah Vahdati)

Iran last week conducted a medium-range ballistic missile test in violation of Security Council resolutions, The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed US military official.

Nuclear experts are concerned that the recent measures taken by Iran, breaking an enriched uranium stockpile limit and enriching uranium beyond an agreed purity, will shorten the current year-long window the country would need to produce enough nuclear of the material needed for a weapon.

The remaining signatories to the Iran nuclear deal were to meet in Vienna on Sunday to try again to find a way of saving the accord amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which comes a month after a similar gathering failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Efforts by European powers, notably France’s President Emmanuel Macron, to salvage the nuclear deal have so far come to nothing.

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