Agreement reached on redesign of Iran's Arak reactor

12 November 2015

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that Iran and EU3+3 countries (US, China, Russia, UK, France and Germany) have reached agreement regarding the redesigning of Arak Heavy Water reactor in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in July.

The Arak reactor was seen to be a problem as soon as its existence was made public in 2002, by an Iranian opposition group. Heavy water reactors produce more plutonium of a type that is better for weapons than other reactors.

Annex I of the JCPOA details the restrictions on the Arak reactor, heavy water production, and reprocessing very specifically, even providing numbers defining the overall properties of the reactor. The reactor will be redesigned to produce less plutonium of a grade less suitable for weapons, and Iran will do no reprocessing, will ship used fuel out of the country, and will limit its production and stocks of heavy water. Future research and power reactors will rely on light-water technology, which produces less plutonium.

The Arak reactor will be redesigned by an international partnership that will certify the final design. Annex I specifies that the calandria will be removed and its openings filled with concrete. Iran will be the project manager, and activities for redesigning and manufacturing the fuel assemblies for the redesigned reactor will take place in Iran, except for the first core load, which will probably be produced in one of the EU3+3 countries.

The reactor will support peaceful nuclear research and medical and industrial radioisotope production and will not produce weapons grade plutonium in normaloperation. Industrial purposes can include testing fuel pins and assembly prototypes and structural materials for future reactors. A Working Group consisting of EU3+3 representatives will be primarily responsible for the redesign which will have to be approved by Iranian regulators. The fuel may be enriched up to 3.67%.

Iran will not produce or test fuel components intended for the originally designed Arak reactor and the fuel fabrication line for the IR-40 reactor will be modified to fabricate fuel for the new design. Existing natural uranium pellets and IR-40 fuel assemblies will be stored under continuous IAEA monitoring until the modernised Arak reactor becomes operational.

The IAEA will monitor construction of the reactor to make sure it aligns with the plans, and it will be operated under IAEA monitoring.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrooz Kamalvandi said on 8 November that Iran will be able to resume nuclear activities at its current level after altering its nuclear facilities according to the requirements of the JCPOA

"By redesigning the Arak reactor, we will fall behind two to three years. But if we decide to return, we will be able to do so in less than two years, that is, we will produce another core for the reactor very quickly because we have already done so once, and have all the blueprints and materials."

A similar message was delivered the same day by AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi who said Iran would continue its activities in the nuclear field in accordance with the JCPOA.

"According to this, Iran not only has inalienable right to uranium enrichment within the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), but also to expand activities in the field of extraction of uranium, fuel production and waste management. Iran has entered a new era of nuclear activities with a bright landscape," he told a meeting of Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo.

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