The second circuit of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor is slated to go online on Monday, bringing it another stage closer to being fully operational, the country’s semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
While the move does not violate the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, it does strengthen the country’s nuclear capabilities at a time when tensions between Tehran and Washington are on the rise.
The announcement came just over two months after Ali Asghar Zarean, an assistant to the chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, promised that the reactor system would be completed in two weeks.
Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s Arak nuclear site was to be reconfigured to make it unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium and another plant at Fordo was to stop enriching uranium.
Tehran subsequently removed the core of the Arak facility and filled part of it with cement as part of the deal, which granted the country relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Under the JCPOA, the reactor is to be modernized with the help of foreign experts and in October a team of British experts arrived in Iran to begin work upgrading the reactor.
Heavy water can be used to produce plutonium, which fuels nuclear weapons.
According to Mehr, the first circuit of the reactor “is tasked with removing heat from the heart of the reactor” while the second ” is responsible for transferring the heat from the first circuit to cooling towers and finally to the outside environment.”
Tensions have been escalating between Iran and the United States since May last year when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions. The remaining partners in the deal with Iran include Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The European parties have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the accord, but their efforts have so far borne little fruit.
Iran has said it is ramping enrichment activity back up after the US withdrew from the nuclear pact.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond a 300-kilogram maximum set by the deal, and a week later, it announced it had exceeded a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
On September 7, it fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles.