The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, said told IRIB on 1 February that Iran has a good status of uranium reserves and plans to increase the number of yellowcake processing plants with total reliance on its own human resources.  

Referring to a 30-tonne yellowcake consignment from a factory in Ardakan, Yazd, to the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in Isfahan on 30 January, he noted, “We will have similar factories in several regions of Yazd province in the future.”  He added that the yellowcake facility in Ardakan had been developed by Iranian specialists using state-of-the-art technologies. It is the second of its kind, the other being in Bandar Abbas. In April, the first yellowcake consignment was transferred from the Saghand uranium mine to the UCF, which is now working with full capacity.

 Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with world powers that went into effect in early 2016, Iran has also imported yellowcake.

In February 2017, Tehran and Astana signed a deal, according to which Iran could buy 950 tonnes of yellowcake from Kazakhstan.

Asked about the status of uranium exploration, Salehi said Iran had begun aerial uranium exploration and had so far investigated 80% of the country.  Analysis of the data is ongoing. It had been assumed in the past that Iran lacked uranium reserves, but explorations have proved that it is neither poor nor rich in this regard, Salehi maintained, adding that conditions are good as far as strategic reserves are concerned.

Salehi also pointed to nuclear cooperation between Iran and European countries, saying: “They have invested $20 million in our nuclear facilities, and have provided a lot of training courses, and have a very good nuclear cooperation (with Iran). There is no particular problem.”

In an interview on 29 January, Salehi categorically rejected any link between the AEOI and the military noting that a nuclear propulsion project is an entirely peaceful initiative. “We have no cooperation with military sectors. We are working on a nuclear propulsion project, but that is also a peaceful project. If all conditions are met, it will take at least 15 years for the project to be completed,” he said.

In mid-January, Salehi said Iran was taking the preliminary steps to produce "modern 20%-enriched uranium" to fuel its Tehran research reactor (TRR). "It is different from the previous 20%-enriched fuel” and would be suitable for any reactor similar to the Tehran reactor. He had earlier warned that Iran could resume 20% uranium enrichment if the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is abandoned by parties remaining under the agreement.

The TRR is a light-water reactor developed by the US and given to Iran in 1967, along with weapons-grade uranium fuel. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran was unable to source the required fuel from abroad, so the reactor was modified to use fuel enriched below 20%, which could be bought from Argentina. In 2012, Iran announced that for the first time it was loading domestically made rods into the reactor after foreign producers refused to supply it.

Salehi said that Iran has now developed independent nuclear technology and no longer needs to depend on reverse engineering in the development of its nuclear technology. He said in another interview that Iran’s restrictions were related to the production of centrifuge machines, explaining “we have accepted restrictions on testing of a variety of centrifuge machines for a period of eight years”. He added: “For Europeans, a centrifuge takes eight years from design to operation, while the process takes us ten years.”

Nevertheless, new generations of centrifuge have been developed. “In the last three years, although we have injected gas into the IR-8 centrifuge, we see problems in that on a daily basis. Many experiments still need to be carried out and all of them have to be successful in order to begin mass production,” Salehi said. He added that while Iran needs time for more experiments on the IR-8, it already has the capability for mass production.

“Enrichment is currently underway, and we can exceed the 300kg limit (set by the nuclear agreement) whenever we wish and can undertake enrichment at any volume and level,” he said in an interview with state TV on the sidelines of a visit to the Fordo nuclear facility. “We currently have 1044 centrifuges in Fordo, and if the establishment requires it, we will restart 20% uranium enrichment,” Salehi noted.

Salehi expressed hope that the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement would deliver on their promise and implement their commitments to fill the gap created by the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018.

Otherwise, he said, Iran will have to reduce its JCPOA commitments. "I am warning you that this is not a bluff; I have kept my word whenever I’ve said something.”   

International Atomic Energy Agency director general Yukiya Amano, said in the text of a speech posted online on 30 January that Iran was implementing its commitments under nuclear deal. "It is essential that Iran continues to fully implement those commitments," he added.

The same day, Iran expressed concerns over delays in China’s redesign of its Arak a heavy water reactor which was agreed under the JCPOA to limit the amount of plutonium it would produce as a byproduct. IRNA quoted Salehi as saying that “China has decreased the speed of cooperation with us despite its commitments.” He said Iran had “alternative” choices if China cannot fulfil its task. He speculated that Beijing feared possible sanctions by the USA if it continued its cooperation with Iran.