Russian President Vladimir Putin has eased an export ban on nuclear equipment and technology to Iran.

The decree, issued on 23 November, as Putin arrived in Iran on his first official visit since 2007, said Russian firms were now authorised to export hardware and to provide financial and technical advice to help Iran with three specific tasks.

These included modifying two cascades of centrifuges at its Fordow uranium enrichment plant, supporting Iranian efforts to export 300kg of enriched uranium in exchange for natural uranium supplies, and helping Iran modernise its Arak heavy water reactor.

The decree says all state institutions, industrial, trade, financial, transport and other organizations, credit institutions and non-credit financial institutions, as well as other legal entities and individuals under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, can proceed with their activities on the basis that prohibitions, restrictions and other measures imposed by the Russian authorities to implement the UN Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929 (sanctions on Iran) do not apply to "carrying out deliveries, sales or transfer of items (materials, equipment, goods and technology), providing technical and financial assistance, brokerage or other services, as well as training and investment, if they are directly related to modification of the two cascades at Fordow for the production of stable isotopes by centrifuge enrichment".

In addition, the bans do not apply to activities related to "exports of enriched uranium, the supply of which exceeds 300kg, from the Islamic Republic of Iran in exchange for the transfer of natural uranium to Iran, as well as to modernisation of the reactor at Arak on the basis of the agreed conceptual project design and a subsequently agreed final draft design of such a reactor".

However, it is emphasized that the activities removed from the ban must strictly conform with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in Vienna in July between Iran and the E3/EU+3 (UK, France, Germany, Russia, the USA and China)
Moscow is hoping to cement its strengthening relationship with Tehran by clinching industrial export deals worth more than $21bn as international sanctions on Iran are gradually lifted in the coming months, and as it prepares to send one of its biggest trade delegations to Iran in December.

"We expect that after sanctions are lifted Iran will prefer to work with the Russian Federation on many tracks especially in hi-tech areas such as aviation, aerospace, radio electronics, shipbuilding," Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin told Bloomberg. "The Iranians emphasize the pivotal role Russia played in the lifting of sanctions, so if we’re active we’ll open a new market for ourselves. We’re counting on it."

Russia and Iran are now hoping to complete the removal of enriched uranium from Iran before the end of the year, Tass reported. Assuming this includes any low-enriched uranium in excess of 300kg, at current stockpile levels, that amounts to about 8000kg worth almost $635,000, according to the latest spot price published by UX Consulting.

As to the production of stable isotopes at the Fordow plant, which is being converted to end the production of high enriched uranium as part of the JCPOA, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi said Iran and Russia have discussed the issue.

"We discussed with the Russians turning two centrifuge cascades at the Fordow site into cascades which can produce stable isotopes. Russia is one of the main suppliers of stable isotopes in the world and the talks are underway."

Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom confirmed that negotiations had been held and progress has been achieved.

Kamalvandi also recalled that an agreement for building two new nuclear power units had been signed by Russia, noting that all the technical discussions were completed and some trade issues were being finalised. He expressed the hope that construction would start before the New Year.

Kamalvandi further announced that the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be delivered permanently to Iranian operators by the end of the year. Iranian personnel have been operating the plant for the past two years under Russian supervision. Bushehr 1, a 915MWe VVER pressurised water reactor, is Iran’s only commercial nuclear unit. It was supplied by Russia and began commercial operation in September 2013.

Arak reactor design formally agreed

As to the Arak research reactor, the AEOI on 21 November published the final document for international collaboration to restructure the reactor in line with the provisions of the JCPOA.

The document is signed by the foreign ministers of E3/EU+3 as well as the European Union foreign policy chief.

It says Iran will take the leadership role as owner and as project manager and have responsibility for development of a schedule and overall implementation of the Arak modernization project. The project will includeoverall implementation efforts, design of the modernised reactor and subsidiary laboratories, fuel fabrication and qualification, application for and issuance of licences, and construction and operation of the reactor and subsidiary laboratories.

Collaborative activities with the E3/EU+3, involving a working group, will include, reactor design, fuel development and fabrication, safety, reactor component procurement and fabrication, and used fuel management, among other things.

China, a co-Chair of the E3/EU+3 working group, will participate in the design and construction of the modernised reactor, including in areas such as reactor design engineering, engineering technology services, supply of equipment, and fabrication of fuel for the initial core load, based on commercial arrangements.

The USA, the other co-Chair, will provide technical support and review of the modernized reactor design, as well as analysis of fuel design and safety standards, to ensure it conforms with the key attributes and characteristics set forth in the JCPOA.

France will participate in design review, supply of equipment based on commercial arrangements, and receipt and handling of used fuel through commercial arrangements. The UK will participate in design review, training on safety and security, and supply of equipment based on commercial arrangements. Germany will participate in design review, the feasibility study, and supply of equipment based on commercial arrangements. Russia will provide consultative services. The EU representative will facilitate the approval process of relevant designs and, if needed, of relevant equipment exports.

Iran will develop and share as soon as possible with the working group its five-year schedule, including major milestones.

Kamalvandi said the official document for the redesign of the Arak reactor is "very good and robust," adding that the process for the initial change in the design of the reactor will take one year, and then a commission representing the E3/EU+3 will have three months to approve the work.