During a three-day visit to Beijing at the end of August, Iranian Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi had extensive talks with Xu Dazhe, the head of China's Atomic Energy Authority, and with officials from the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).
China undertook to play a leading role in redesigning Iran's Arak heavy-water research reactor to reduce its plutonium output from 10kg to less than 1kg in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in July between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany). Salehi, who also heads the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), said "China has accepted...a leading role in a working group that would look into the redesign and refurbishing of Arak. The Americans will also participate very seriously."
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani confirmed that the USA would also be involved in the reactor redesign. "One of the issues that Iran and the P5+1countries have discussed and agreed is that Arak's heavy water reactor must be upgraded, and this will be done by China and one of the P5+1 countries ... which will probably be the US." China, Iran and the US are set to meet in mid-September at the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference in Vienna.
China has also said it may also help Iran build two small 100MWe ACP100 reactors. Salehi said the issue had been discussed "at length" and that he expected a deal to be reached "in the coming months". At a separate meeting with CNNC officials, China reportedly welcomed cooperation with Iran on various nuclear projects, including Tehran's plans to export its excess enriched uranium to neighbouring countries.
AEOI spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi said China is also willing to provide financial resources for the construction of large nuclear plants in Iran. He said Iran wants to construct at least 12 nuclear plants in the next 15 years, adding that Tehran may even involve European countries until Iran is able to build its own NPPs.
Salehi said Iran was looking at building nuclear plants with capacities of 1000MWe with the aim of having 20,000MWe of nuclear power capacity in 30 years. Iran has already signed agreements with Russia to build two 1000MWe nuclear reactors, he said and he expected Russia to begin construction this year. He expressed the hope that work would start on four new units in the next 3-4 years.