Iran has begun construction of a 10 MW pool-type light water reactor nuclear research reactor of its own design in Isfahan.
The reactor is designed for 20% enriched fuel and will be used to test nuclear fuel and materials, for the production of medical isotopes, as well as for research using neutron beams. "The design and construction of this reactor is entirely the work of our nuclear scientists," said Mohammad Eslami, vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) at the ground-breaking ceremony. "After the construction is completed, we will offer international training in the field of nuclear science and technology. This is a completely domestic project that will close the chain of research, evaluation, testing and ensuring the production of nuclear energy in Iran." Eslami said in June that Iran had also begun work on building the first all-Iranian NPP with a capacity of 360MWe.
Currently, the only operating NPP in Iran is the VVER-1000 at unit 1 of the Bushehr NPP, built with Russian assistance. Rosatom is currently building the second stage (units 2&3) with a total capacity of 2,100MWe. Iran also has a small, ageing research reactor - the 5MWt Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) supplied by the US in 1967.
Meanwhile, in the 1980s Iran began construction of a 40 MWt indigenously designed natural uranium heavy water research reactor at Arak. The IR-40 reactor, according to IAEA, was 63% complete in 2009 and the reactor vessel was installed in 2013. However, Iran agreed to restructure the IR-40 under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached between Iran and major world states in 2015 whereby Iran undertook to limit its nuclear development in return for the lifting of sanctions. The redesign, supported by experts from the UK and China under the JCPOA, was intended to reduce the amount of plutonium the heavy water reactor could produce. The reactor was intended for research and to make isotopes for medical and agricultural use. In 2019, former AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran had purchased spares to replace the core, and in September 2021, Eslami, said the IR-40 should be made operational "as soon as possible”.
Image: Technicians at the Arak heavy water reactor in Iran (courtesy of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran)