The USA will waive its sanctions on nuclear cooperation with Iran, allowing Russian, Chinese, and European companies to continue their work at Iranian nuclear facilities, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on 31 October. However, Ortagus also said new sanctions had been placed on Iran's construction sector.
As a result of the sanctions, "the sale, supply, or transfer to or from Iran of raw and semifinished metals, graphite, coal, and software for integrating industrial purposes will be sanctionable if those materials are to be used in connection with the Iranian construction sector," the State Department said. In addition, materials deemed to be used in connection with Iran’s nuclear, military, or ballistic missile programmes will be sanctionable (regardless of end-use or end-user). These include stainless steel 304L tubes; MN40 manganese brazing foil; MN70 manganese brazing foil; and stainless steel CrNi60WTi ESR+VAR.
The US administration had set a 29 October deadline to decide whether to extend the waivers, a key commitment under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) and Iran. The five waivers were put in place after the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran. The US had previously extended the waivers in May and again in July for 90 days. They were intended to enable European powers, Russia and China to deploy personnel to four Iranian nuclear sites to continue work with their Iranian counterparts under the JCPOA. The work includes modifying the heavy water reactor in Arak, converting the Fordow enrichment facility to produce stable isotopes, and fuel supplies for the Bushehr nuclear plant and the Tehran research reactor.
In retaliation for the US withdrawal, Tehran has so far reduced its commitments under the JCPOA three times in line with Articles 26 and 36 of the agreement but stressed that these steps will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions. These measures have included increasing Iran’s stockpile of enriched material and also the level of enrichment as well as increasing its production of heavy water. Earlier in October, Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) head Ali Akbar Salehi told Iran's state TV that Iran's nuclear programme is back to a “pre-JCPOA situation", producing 5 to 6 kilograms a day of 3.5% enriched uranium.
Under the JCPOA, Iran had agreed to redesign the 40MW Arak research reactor, to limit its potential output of plutonium. In July Iran's President Hassan Rouhani had hinted that the reactor modifications would be reversed if the other signatories to the deal failed to meet their commitments under the accord. However, the work has continued. A team of UK nuclear technology experts, who arrived in Tehran on 14 October, visited the Arak reactor and made "good progress" in the civilian cooperation mission, UK Ambassador to Tehran Rob Macaire said in a Twitter video message. “This project shows how hard we are trying to make sure the JCPOA remains active after the US withdrawal," Macaire said in Persian. The project initially involved US and Chinese experts, but the UK replaced the US after it pulled out of the agreement. Ali Asqar Zarean Special Assistant to AEOI head Salehi, said the secondary circuit of the Arak heavy water reactor, would be operating shortly following its redesign and cold testing would be completed by March 2021. The reactor will become fully operational within the next two years, he added.
Iran’s nuclear activities have been entirely indigenised, Zarean said on 20 October, noting that the Fordow nuclear site is currently operating better than before nuclear deal and is still capable of easily enriching uranium to 20% should that be necessary. He noted that before the JCPOA, there were only 720 centrifuges working at the site, while today there are 1,044 first-generation centrifuge machines operating there. Iran will soon unveil three new generations of its centrifuges, he added. In September, AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Iran’s new IR-6 centrifuges are several times more powerful than those currently being used. He said that a series of 20 IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges and a series of 10 IR-5 centrifuges would operational within two months.
But Even more important than centrifuges is Iran's ability to produce yellowcake, Zarean said, alluding to Iran’s difficulties in buying the material. "We are now producing the raw material of yellowcake domestically and this has greatly increased our bargaining power at the international level," he added. He also said heavy water production is continuing and Iran is producing 20 tonnes of heavy water a year and exporting it to a number of countries. "Those who claimed that Iran was bluffing are now purchasing our heavy water and we are able to produce up to 25 tonnes of heavy water based on our needs."
In mid-September, AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran expected to open its first large laboratory dedicated to quantum physics within a year. He added that Iran had compiled its own roadmap for development of quantum technologies, which is due to come into force once it is ratified by the parliament and other related government bodies.
Meanwhile, Iranian vice president for legal affairs Laya Joneydi said Iran will take court action to seek compensation from the USA for damages caused by its breach of the nuclear deal. Iran has already sued the US administration in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the imposition of sanctions.
Photo: Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant