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Iran’s new nuclear chief wants fast overhaul of Arak reactor

Under 2015 deal, Tehran agreed to modify site so that it could not produce military-grade plutonium

Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has said he wants to speed up the conversion of the country’s Arak heavy water reactor into a research facility.

Iran removed the core of the Arak facility and filled part of it with cement as part of a 2015 deal that gave the country relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. As part of the agreement, the Islamic Republic agreed to modify the Arak reactor so that it could not produce military-grade plutonium, with Tehran saying it has been working on redesigning it for medical and agricultural use.

“This project must be reconfigured and returned to operation as soon as possible,” Iranian media on Saturday quoted Mohammad Eslami as saying during a visit to the site this week.

No time frame was specified.

Tehran has gradually rolled back its nuclear commitments since 2019, a year after then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral deal and began reimposing sanctions.

Tehran has quadrupled its stockpile of 60 percent-enriched uranium since May, in open contravention of the 2015 accord.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami (center) speaks during a joint press briefing with Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi (second right) in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday, September 12, 2021. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran said in 2019 that a secondary circuit for the Arak reactor had become operational as part of its redesign, but that the reactor’s primary circuit, which contains the core, was still being built.

It also said that the US withdrawal from the nuclear accord had slowed the reactor’s conversion.

Eslami’s comments came just days after the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, visited Tehran and reached a temporary arrangement to continue surveillance of Iranian nuclear facilities.

Talks between Iran and world powers on reentering the deal have been idle since June. Major powers are losing patience, more than three months after the suspension of negotiations that had begun in April in Vienna, under the aegis of the European Union, to try to resurrect the international agreement of 2015.

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