In the south of Iran, near Bandar Abbas, Iran constructed the Gchine (also written Gachin) uranium mine and its co-located mill. The low but variable grade uranium ore found in near-surface deposits would be open-pit mined and processed at the associated mill. The estimated production design capacity was 21 tons of uranium per year. Iran had stated that, as of July 2004, mining operations had started and the mill had been hot tested, during which testing a quantity of about 40 to 50 kg of yellowcake was produced.
Iran had explored two other potential uranium production routes. One was the extraction of uranium from phosphoric acid. Using research scale equipment, small quantities of yellowcake were successfully produced at the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre (TNRC) laboratories. Iran stated that there were no facilities in Iran for separating uranium from phosphoric acid other than the research facilities at TNRC.
The second route explored by Iran was the production of yellowcake using percolation leaching. Using this technique, Iran produced an estimated several hundred kilograms of yellowcake using temporary facilities, subsequently dismantled, located at the Gchine mining site.
In its Additional Protocol declarations of 21 May 2004, Iran provided information to the IAEA on the location, operational status and estimated annual production capacity of the Gchine mine and mill, the Saghand Mine and the Yellowcake Production Plant. The IAEA carried out complementary access at Gchine on 17 July 2004, at the Saghand Mine on 6 October 2004 and at the Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant on 7 October 2004, in the course of which the Agency was able to confirm the declared status of these operations.
Access to these sites, and clarifications requested by the Agency, had been provided by Iran in a timely manner. The Agency's assessment of the information related to these mines and mills was declared by Iran under the Additional Protocol was ongoing, as was the analysis of samples taken from those locations.
During a meeting in Iran from 13 to 18 August 2005, the IAEA requested to speak with the individual who had previously been in charge of the Gchine project, as well as to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) representative then in charge of the project. The Agency was only able to meet with the standing AEOI representative, who had assumed responsibility for the project in 2002. The AEOI representative provided a chronology of the construction of the uranium ore concentration plant, and in particular, of the design and construction of the grinding process line, stating that procurement of parts for that line had been started in September 2000, that the civil engineering construction had begun in February 2001 and that the equipment was first tested in April 2001.
During the meeting, files containing drawings and documents related to the Gchine mine ore processing activities were shown to the IAEA. Most of the files were those that had been shown to the Agency in April 2005, and consisted of the final "as built" drawings. Only some of the files contained originals of drawings related to the first attempts to design and construct the grinding process line. In these latter documents, the names of the persons who had designed, drawn, checked or approved the drawings, and the name of the company that had prepared the drawings, along with project numbers and dates, were blacked out. Iran explained that "the coverage of names was done to protect the commercial secret."
In a September 2005 IAEA report, the Deputy Director General for Safeguards was said to have stated to the Board of Governors on 16 June 2005, while there were no indications of undeclared mining or milling activities at Gchine, the Agency had been trying to achieve a better understanding of the complex arrangements governing the past and current administration of the Gchine mine and mill. In particular, the IAEA wished to investigate further how a turn-key project for a uranium ore processing plant could have been implemented by a newly founded company, described as having had limited experience in uranium ore processing, in such a relatively short period of time. In particular, the IAEA had focused on the period between 2000 and mid-2001, during which time, according to Iran, the company had been able to design, procure, build and test the grinding process line for the mill. The IAEA also reported that it was still trying to acquire a better understanding about why no work was carried out at the Gchine site between 1993 and 2000. Iran had stated that, during that period, research and development experiments on Gchine ore were carried out at a TNRC laboratory.
In 2006 the IAEA met with AEOI officials to discuss the alleged "Green Salt" enrichment project. Iranian officials stated that the company alleged to have been associated with the project had, however, been involved in procurement for UCF and in the design and construction of the Gchine ore processing plant.
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