China and Iran on 23 April signed the first commercial contract for the restructuring of Iran's Arak heavy water research reactor.
The core of the reactor was removed as part of an international agreement limiting Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. The contract is mainly related to the design concept of the transformation of the Arak reactor and some preliminary design-related consulting services. China National Nuclear Corporation will complete the design concept for the renovation within the next eight months.
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to redesign the reactor to minimise its plutonium production and avoid production of weapons-grade plutonium. The JCPOA was signed in Vienna in July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 group, namely the UK, China, France, Russia, the USA and Germany, as well as the European Union. The P5+1 countries have created a working group led by China and the USA to work with Iran to redesign the reactor, which is a key aspect of the JCPOA on Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran and the P5+1 (also known as the E3+3) began implementing the JCPOA in January 2016. According to the accord, "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 reactor was signed by all parties to the JCPOA.
The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi, announced earlier that the 200-page contract contains details covering different aspects of Tehran-Beijing cooperation in the nuclear project. He said the responsibility for designing the reactor in Arak and its equipment rests only with Iran, while China and the USA will evaluate the design scientifically once it is completed.
According to the AEOI, "The first primary phase of the reactor's design has been accomplished by Iranian experts over the past year and, through signing this contract, the performed design will be reviewed, confirmed and adjusted to international nuclear safety standards by the Chinese side." Iranian experts have already started work on the detailed design of the reactor, AEOI said.
Copies of documents related to the design concept of the Arak reactor, which "are significant for the next phase of the reactor's redesigning", will now be delivered to the Chinese team, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Iran and China have held several rounds of talks over the past year to discuss the technical details of the contract, which is the first of a number of "more comprehensive contracts to be inked for completion and re-installation of the Arak reactor in future, IRNA added.