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Iran nuclear chief seeks to speed up conversion of heavy water reactor

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

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

Under a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, the Islamic Republic agreed to modify the Arak reactor so that it could not produce military-grade plutonium.

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

No time frame was specified.

The nuclear deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for tight controls on its nuclear program, monitored by the UN.

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.

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.

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