Iran foresees sharp rise in uranium production
Iran’s nuclear chief says the country is to produce about 40 tonnes of uranium this year, more than half the total amount yielded over the preceding years.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, made the remarks in a televised interview on Sunday.
Over 70 percent of the country’s terrain has been subjected to aerial prospecting for uranium, he said, adding, “Contrary to our previous perception, our country is not poor in uranium resources, and we will be able to satisfy our needs over the next several years.”
Should the country fail to produce its uranium, it will come under pressure in the process of obtaining it from foreign sources, Salehi said.
The official said that since the conclusion of the nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany — in July 2015, the Islamic Republic has purchased 360 tonnes of yellowcake — a type of uranium condensate powder.
As a member of the Procurement Working Group of the Joint Commission monitoring the implementation of the nuclear agreement, the UK prevented Iran from further purchases of 900 tonnes, Salehi said.
“This is while it is up to us to decide how much (yellocake) we need. Therefore, we have to show to the opposite side that we are self-reliant so they do not make up excuses.”
Salehi said the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in southern Iran and two other facilities which are to be built over the next 10 years will need a total of 600 tonnes of uranium a year for their operation.
Iran’s nuclear reversibility
Salehi said if the Iranian committee, tasked with observing the nuclear accord, decides that the other party has violated the deal, Tehran will roll back its nuclear program in such a way that it will surprise the opposite side.
As per the agreement, Iran is forbidden from producing uranium and plutonium metals over the next 10 years, the official said, adding, “Of course, we have produced uranium metal in the past and know the way to produce it.”
Small nuclear reactors
Salehi said Iran has to build smaller reactors in the 100-megawatt range in the country’s central parts because big reactors need to be built near the sea for cooling.
According to the official, the construction of a 1,000-magawatt power plant similar to Bushehr requires some $5 billion of investment and involves energy waste during power transmission, while the cost of a 100-megawatt facility is significantly lower.
Salehi said negotiations have been held with the Chinese to build two 100-megawatt power plants in Iran, while nuclear agreements have been signed with the Czechs and Hungarians. Iran is further working with Slovakia and France since becoming a member of Euroatom, he added.
‘Building nuclear hospital afoot’
Austrian experts, Salehi said, would come to Iran over the next weeks to break the ground on a “nuclear hospital.”
The facility, which would be unique in West Asia, would take four years to build and revolutionize the country’s medical equipment.
Iran and China are also expected to finalize an agreement on redesigning Arak heavy water reactor in the upcoming weeks, Salehi said.
The 40-megawatt Arak reactor is intended to produce isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments. Iran is redesigning the planned research reactor to sharply cut its potential output of plutonium.
Salehi has said the amount of plutonium the reactor will be able to yield will be reduced to less than 1 kg a year from 9-10 kg in its original design.
Iran has removed the sensitive core of the Arak nuclear reactor and UN inspectors have visited the site to verify the move crucial to the implementation of Tehran’s nuclear agreement with major powers.