ISIS Iran Report

Iran’s Reactor Claims:  A Pretext for More 20 Percent Enriched Uranium?

Iran’s Reactor Claims:  A Pretext for More 20 Percent Enriched Uranium? photo

June 18, 2010

Iran’s announcement this week that it wants to build four new nuclear research reactors should be viewed skeptically.  Such announcements can shroud other intentions, in this case an attempt by Iran to lay the basis for continued or even increased enrichment of 20 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz centrifuge plant.

On June 16, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization announced that Iran would begin work on four new research reactors for the production of medical isotopes.  The reactors’ planned locations were not announced, but Salehi stated that they would be constructed in different parts of the country to serve medical centers.  According to Salehi, the first reactor would replace the aging 5-megawatt Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which has an estimated life span of fifteen more years.  He said the new reactor would be more powerful, operating at 20 megawatts-thermal, and that design work would start immediately and the reactor would start in five years.  Given that Iran has not built a reactor, and the Arak heavy water reactor construction project is delayed, this schedule is highly optimistic.  This plan also raises questions about Iran’s ability to meet minimal safety and environmental concerns about a new reactor and its fuel. 

Iran has still not learned to make research reactor fuel for the TRR.  Salehi said the production of experimental fuel elements is slated for completion in March 2011.  Iran hopes to produce the TRR’s first batch of fuel elements by September 2011. 

Given the unrealistic nature of Iran’s announcement, the question is whether it is a pretext for a claim that it must continue producing 20 percent enrichment to fuel these new research reactors.  Iran could also use its latest announcement as justification for employing additional cascades for the production of 20 percent enriched uranium at Natanz, thereby further entrenching its enrichment capability by creating additional “facts on the ground” and exacerbating tensions with the UN Security Council. 

email us twitter Share on Facebook