Nuclear Technology Center
The Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center was founded in 1974 for scientific and technical support of the country's comprehensive nuclear power plant program. At that time extensive site selection studies were made and a location a Roshandasht, 15 kilometers southeast of Esfahan was selected. A number of activities were were performed before 1979 by Iranian authorities with assistance from Technicatom of France. This included construction of temporary office buildings, establishment of temporary laboratories, and general site preparation including roads, water supply, electricity, etc. Design and preparation of preliminary drawings of workshops, laboratories and office buildings for the main site was completed, as was the fencing and design of green area for the Center's site and protected zone.
During the period between 1979-1981, due to policy changes in the country's NPP plans, the objective of the Center was reviewed and modified and its activities started at the temporary site in 1981. After starting work, the Center planned development of its capabilities in scientific and engineering abilities to establish industrial units related to nuclear energy.
Between 1981 and mid-1993, Iran conducted a variety of small scale uranium conversion experiments, which encompassed the conversion of uranium ore concentrate (UOC) to ammonium diuranate (ADU) and UO2, the conversion of UOC to ammonium uranyl carbonate (AUC), the conversion of uranyl nitrate (UN) directly to UO3, the conversion of UO2 to UF4 through wet and dry processes and the conversion of UF4 to UF6. With the exception of the studies on uranium metal conversion and pulse columns, the small scale conversion activities started in the early to mid-1980s and continued for several years. The last of these, the UF4-UF6 experiments, ended in June of 1993. During the period between 1995 to 2002, techniques to convert UF4 to uranium metal were developed and, between 1997 to 2002, research and development on processes in connection with the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at Esfahan was also conducted.
Iran announced plans in 1995 to build a uranium hexafluoride (UF6) conversion plant at the Nuclear Technical Centre in Esfahan with Chinese assistance. During a November 1996 IAEA visit to Esfahan, Iran informed the IAEA Department of Safeguards that it planned to build a UF6 conversion plant. The UF6 plant was scheduled to open after 2000, but China claimed to have abandoned the project under pressure from the United States. Russia subsequently was contracted to supply the nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactors, meaning that Iran had no civil power plant requirement for uranium hexafluoride.
Construction at the site was said to include a hexafluoride plant being built with Chinese assistance. Other reports suggested that this facility might be located at the Rudan Nuclear Research Center in Fasa. Indications of the existence of this facility (wherever it might be located) included Russian press reports of a shipment of uranium hexafluoride gas from China to Iran in late 1994, as well as purchases of hydrogen fluoride from Germany and attempts to buy fluorification equipment from Britain.
China pledged in October 1997 to halt cooperation on a UCF and not to engage in any new nuclear cooperation with Iran, but said it would complete cooperation on two nuclear projects: a small research reactor and a zirconium production facility at Esfahan that Iran would use to produce cladding for reactor fuel.
Chinese entities were continuing work on a Zirconium Production Facility at Esfahan that would enable Iran to produce cladding for reactor fuel. As an adherent to the NPT, Iran was required to accept IAEA safeguards on its nuclear material. The IAEA's Additional Protocol requires states to declare production of zirconium fuel cladding and gives the IAEA the right of access to resolve questions or inconsistencies related to the declarations, but prior to November 2003 Iran had made no moves to bring the Additional Protocol into force. Moreover, Iran remained the only NPT adherent with a full-scope safeguards agreement that has not adopted a subsidiary agreement obligating early declaration of nuclear facilities. Zirconium production, other than production of fuel cladding, was not subject to declaration or inspection.
A 5 May 2003 letter from Iran informed the IAEA for the first time of its plan to commence construction in 2003 of a Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) at Esfahan. The stated purpose of the FMP was fabrication of fuel assemblies for the IR-40 and for the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
Accoring to Iran, in the early 1990's, when the country decided to reconsider its nuclear program, it was not clear whether it would consist of CANDU reactors, Magnox reactors or light water reactors. Therefore it was decided to include a U-metal production line in the UCF which could also be used to produce shielding material.
Iran had sought to obtain turnkey facilities, such as the UCF, that ostensibly would be used to support fuel production for the Bushehr power plant. However, the UCF could be used in any number of ways to support fissile material production needed for a nuclear weapon, specifically, production of uranium hexafluoride for use as a feedstock for uranium enrichment operations and production of uranium compounds suitable for use as fuel in a plutonium production reactor.
On 10 February 2003 Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), said that Iran had started an ambitious nuclear energy program and was poised to begin processing uranium. He said that the uranium ore processing plant was expected to come on line soon in the central city of Esfahan and preliminary work had begun on a uranium enrichment plant. Aqazadeh said the first steps had been taken to build an enrichment plant, "but we still have a long way to go to have this plant come onstream." Aqazadeh said the enrichment plant would be built in Kashan (Natanz) in central Iran. The fuel would come from another facility in Esfahan, where a UCF was close to inauguration.
A much-anticipated report by the IAEA, distributed to governments on 6 June 2003 in advance of a meeting of the agency's board of governors on 16 June 2003, concluded that Iran had failed to comply with its nuclear safeguards agreement. The IAEA report revealed Iran was building a previously unacknowledged heavy-water research reactor. That facility could increase Iran's technological options for the production of nuclear weapons. Also published in the report were new Iranian declarations of intentions to establish a Fuel Manufacturing Plant and Zirconium Production Plant, both requisites for creating creating nuclear fuel rods.
In the 2003 report, titled Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General, the Director General of the IAEA identified a number of corrective actions by Iran that were necessary to enable the Agency to verify the previously unreported nuclear material declared to have been imported by Iran in 1991. These actions included the provision of design information on the waste storage facility at Esfahan, and the granting of access to that facility, as well as to Anarak and Qom, where waste resulting from the processing of the imported material was believed to be stored or had been disposed of.
After voluntarily agreeing to suspend nuclear activities at Esfahan's UCF in 2004, Iran notified the IAEA on 1 August 2005 of its intention to resume conversion activities. As of February 2008, Iran had informed the IAEA that the only conversion activities underway were the ones ongoing at the Esfahan UCF.
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