Iran launches new uranium mine

16 August 2023

Iran has begun constructing a mining complex in the northwestern province of West Azarbaijan, which Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) head Mohammad Eslami described as a “hub” for producing raw materials needed for nuclear power production.

The project was launched in the Jang-e Sar region in Khoy, following the discovery of radioactive materials and rare-earth elements there. Eslami told at the launch ceremony that the complex can play a "significant role" in accelerating Iran’s plan for nuclear electricity generation.

“The capacity of this mining complex is so [great] that undoubtedly it will be a hub for supplying the raw material for nuclear fuel production, and it will play a significant role in supporting the plan to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity,” he said.

Uranium, molybdenum, and a number of other rare-earth elements have been discovered in the area. Eslami said the region can be a huge source of rare-earth elements, which have various industrial applications. He added that the use of airborne geophysical surveys in the discovery after exploration operations in the region began in 2022. He said the project would be completed within two and a half years, and that completing the first phase of the project would require around IRR10tr ($20m).

The Bushehr NPP, built with Russian assistance, currently produces 1,000 MWe a year. However, Iran plans to build more NPPs to boost its nuclear electricity production capacity to 20,000 MWe including units 2&3 at the Bushehr plant. Bushehr 1 - a VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor, which began commercial operation in 2013, uses infrastructure that was already in place from a previous, uncompleted German-designed plant.

Eslami recently told a meeting of the National Security & Foreign Policy Commission that construction work has started at a 300 MWe domestically designed pressurised water reactor at Dharkovin on the Karun River. He said companies have been established and land selected – or was about to be allocated – for new nuclear capacity in several provinces including Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Golestan and Bushehr.

This will free more oil and gas resources for export and ease environmental concerns over Iran’s fossil fuel power plant network.

Meanwhile, legislation adopted by the Iranian parliament requires the AEOI to increase Iran’s nuclear electricity generation capacity to respond to growing demand that has already exceeded peaks of 73 GWe this summer.

In recent years, Iran has made significant strides in its pursuit of a peaceful nuclear energy programme, despite facing challenges posed by US sanctions and other Western-imposed obstacles.

Iran has maintained a close and cooperative relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) despite the collapse of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

This agreement had restricted Iranian nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief. The JCPOA was signed by the USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany. However, in 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed crushing sanctions after which Iran accelerated its civil nuclear programme.

Earlier in August, Eslami said Iran had managed to produce derivatives of heavy water, marking its latest achievement in the nuclear industry. He described it as a cutting-edge achievement making Iran one of very few countries to have made the breakthrough. Iran was ready to also export the derivatives to other countries, he added.

Eslami said Iran is seeking to reach a “combination of laser and biotechnology” for making “deuterated drugs”. Noting that lab experiments are currently underway, he noted that there are promising prospects for the mass production of the technology.

Heavy water derivatives can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer instead of the current high-risk methods and chemotherapy.

Image courtesy of AEOI

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