The 40-megawatt Arak reactor is intended to produce isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments. Iran is redesigning the planned research reactor to sharply cut its potential output of plutonium.
Iranian and Chinese companies signed the first commercial contracts to redesign the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor in central Iran on 23 April 2017. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, told a daily news briefing on 20 April 2017 that the accords would be inked in Vienna, with initial agreements having already been reached in Beijing. He further described the contracts as an important part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Lu said China and the US were joint heads of the working group on the Arak project, adding that smooth progress had been made on the plan. "The signing of this contract will create good conditions for substantively starting the redesign project," he said. Iran has removed the sensitive core of the reactor and UN inspectors have visited the site to verify the move, which is crucial to the implementation of the JCPOA.
According to the JCPOA, “Iran will redesign and rebuild a modernised heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on an agreed conceptual design, using fuel enriched up to 3.67 %, in a form of an international partnership which will certify the final design." In November 2015, the document on redesigning the heavy water reactor was signed by all parties to the JCPOA.
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi said the 200-page contract contains a lot of details covering different aspects of Tehran-Beijing cooperation in the nuclear project, he explained. According to Salehi, the responsibility to design the reactor in Arak and its equipment lies only with Iran, while China and the US will evaluate the designing plan scientifically once it is over.
During a press conference by the representative office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) held in Washington DC, in mid-August 2002, the existence of a secret nuclear facility at Arak was revealed. It was reported located at the Qatran Workshop near the Qara-Chai river in the Khondaub / Khondab region, in Central Iran, 150 miles south of Tehran. According to the NCRI, a front organization, named the Mesbah Energy Company, had been used to prevent unwanted disclosures. The headquarters of the Mesbah Energy Company were located in Tehran.
As a result of its clandestine nature, the project was reportedly falling outside of the budgetary supervisory purview of Iran's Organization for Planning and Budget and was also not registered officially with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran's (AEOI) Human Resources Office. Instead, bureaucratic operations of the project were directly supervised by the Security and Itelligence office of the AEOI and of the Central Office of Security. According to the NCRI, the project's managing director was Davood Aqajani, its supervisor was Dr. Mohammad Qannadi (Deputy for Production of Nuclear Fuel), and its operational manager was Behman Asgarpour.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) on 12 December 2002 released an issue brief expressing concern that Iran was trying to develop "the capability to make separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the two main nuclear explosive materials." ISIS acquired satellite imagery of a site near the town of Arak, where a plant was under construction that appeared to be designed to produce heavy water. Heavy water was used to moderate the nuclear chain reaction in one type of nuclear reactor, that could be used either for civilian power production or to produce bomb materials. The nuclear reactor then under construction at Bushehr does not use heavy water, nor did existing Iranian research reactors need it in amounts that would justify construction of such a facility.
According to information provided by the Iranian authorities, the Iranian heavy water reactor program consisted of two different facilities: the heavy water production plant at Arak and the 40 MW(th) IR-40, construction of which was planned to start at Arak in 2004. Although the exact date of the start of construction was unclear, it was evident from commercial satellite imagery that construction was well under way by the early weeks of 2005.
The expected commissioning date of the reactor according to the IAEA was in 2014 in 2004, but changed to 2011 in 2006. In August 2006 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the reactor was scheduled to be opened in 2009. The Heavy Water Production Plant was also opened in Augst 2006.
In May 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has taken a significant step toward building a reactor that Western experts say could provide a second path to producing material for a nuclear bomb. In a quarterly report, the UN nuclear agency said Iran has delivered the reactor vessel to the heavy water plant near the western city of Arak. It said the component has not yet been installed.
The United States said on June 05, 2013 it was "deeply troubled" by Iran's plans to start a reactor in 2014 that could yield nuclear bomb material while failing to give U.N. inspectors necessary design information about the plant. The comments by a U.S. envoy to a board meeting of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) highlighted deepening Western concern about the heavy-water reactor that Iran is building near the town of Arak. "We are deeply troubled that Iran claims that the IR-40 heavy-water reactor at Arak could be commissioned as soon as early 2014, but still refuses to provide the requisite design information," Joseph Macmanus, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, told the 35-nation Board of Governors. Arak could produce enough plutonium for one bomb per year, if Iran decided to pursue such weapons.
On November 11, 2013 the United Nations and Iran announced an agreement to cooperate on resolving outstanding issues regarding the country's nuclear program. Talks Monday between the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, and the Iranian nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, yielded a roadmap that will allow for wider U.N. inspections, including at a heavy water reactor site and a uranium mine.
Princeton University academics said annual production of plutonium could be cut to less than a kilogram - well below the roughly eight kilograms needed for an atomic bomb - if Iran altered the way the plant is fueled, and if it lowered its power capacity. “These redesigns would not reduce the usefulness of the reactor for making radioisotopes and conducting research," wrote Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian - members of Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security. “This approach would meet Iran's needs and would address the concerns of the international community," said their article, published by the online journal of the Arms Control Association, a U.S. research and advocacy group.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's atomic energy organization, said 09 April 2014 Iran had offered a “scientific and logical proposal to clear up any ambiguities" over the Arak reactor. “In our plan, we explained that we would redesign the heart of the Arak reactor, so that its production of plutonium will decrease drastically," Salehi was quoted as saying.
Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said 19 April 2014 that a dispute with world powers over the Arak heavy water reactor has been "virtually solved", the Al-Alam Arabic-language television reported. "Iran has made a proposal to the P5+1 (group of world powers) to make certain changes in Arak and they have accepted. This question is virtually resolved," Salehi said. Salehi told state television Iran will redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to produce one-fifth of the plutonium initially planned for it. Iran has been negotiating with six world powers aimed at clinching a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear drive, and a deal may involve Iran slashing the number of its centrifuges, changing the design of a new reactor at Arak and giving UN inspectors more oversight.
Iran removed the core vessel of the Arak heavy water reactor in compliance with its obligations under the country's nuclear agreement with six world powers, a senior nuclear official said 14 January 2016. "We carried out the last stage of the removal of the Arak reactor's heart and today our job was completely done," Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said.
"The calandria's cavities, and not its heart, will be filled with concrete," he added. Kamalvandi said Iran has met its obligations in the Arak reactor, adding that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will verify the calandria's removal later in the day.
According to reports published in Russia, apparently based on information developed by the Russian Federal Security Service, facilities located at Arak were involved in research and development of unguided rockets, and modifications of the Scud-S missile.
As of 11 April 2000, Russian 2-meter resolution KVR-1000 imagery coverage was not available via the SPIN-2 service on TerraServer, nor was archived Space Imaging IKONOS 1-meter imagery of this facility available on the CARTERRAT Archive (subsequently GeoEye).
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