Nuclear Sites

Tehran Nuclear Research Center

The Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) in north Tehran is Iran’s main nuclear research center.  It houses several important nuclear research facilities. 

The TNRC conducted many secret nuclear activities.  Several of these activities involved nuclear material and were in violation of Iran’s obligations under its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

An example of an important secret program was the gas centrifuge program.  It started at the TNRC in 1985 under the plasma physics department.1  According to a former senior U.N. official close to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran stated that one of the laboratories of the plasma physics department ran one or two test centrifuges in the late 1980s or early 1990s, although apparently without uranium hexafluoride.  The department built another facility at the TNRC with a large hall that was likely intended to hold cascades of IR-1 centrifuges that would enrich uranium, according to this official.  But, according to this official, Iran in the mid-1990s became increasingly concerned about the difficulty of hiding a secret plant that would enrich uranium in blatant violation of its safeguards agreement.  This was a well-known nuclear site and Western and IAEA scrutiny of Iran’s secret activities at the site was growing.2

Starting in about 1993, the IAEA asked to visit more facilities at the TNRC than just those declared under Iran’s safeguards agreement.  At one point, the IAEA even asked to visit the larger plasma physics facility that was to house centrifuge cascades, but Iran refused, according to a former senior U.N. official close to the IAEA.  Iran cited a fire that had just occurred, preventing a visit; an explanation which apparently at the time satisfied the IAEA.  Nonetheless, faced with the possibility of the centrifuge program’s exposure, Iran decided to move its centrifuge research and development activities to Kalaye Electric, according to Iran’s more truthful declarations to the IAEA nearly ten years later in 2003 and 2004.  Other secret activities are described below.

Jabr Ibn Havan Multipurpose Laboratories (JHL)

One of the primary facilities at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TCNC) is the Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratories (JHL) where Iran conducted many undeclared nuclear activities.  JHL has been the site of many nuclear research and development activities, including using shielded glove boxes/hot cells; a uranium metal purification and casting laboratory; mass spectrometer and laser laboratories; and facilities for the testing of uranium purification and conversion processes.  JHL also contains nuclear waste disposal facilities.

Iran conducted a range of activities using undeclared, imported uranium in forms including uranium oxide (UO2), uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), and uranium hexafluoride (UF6).  When the IAEA intensified its investigations in Iran in February 2003, it found that JHL used undeclared UF4 imported from China to make uranium metal.  The conversion equipment used in that project has been dismantled and stored.  

Iran has told the IAEA that small amounts of imported UO2 were prepared for targets at JHL, and were irradiated at the Tehran Research Reactor.  Glove boxes at another lab at TNRC were used for plutonium separation experiments using these irradiated targets.  Those glove boxes were then moved to JHL, and subsequently moved to Esfahan.

A UF6 container inspected at JHL was first found to be missing a few kilograms of UF6. Iran initially declared that the container had leaked, but following environmental testing at other facilities, including Kalaye Electric, Iran was forced to admit that this material had been used in centrifuge testing. 

Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility (MIX Facility)

The Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility (MIX Facility), completed in 2005, at TNRC is a laboratory for the production of radioisotopes of molybdenum, iodine and xenon from natural uranium oxide irradiated in a research reactor.  Iran started construction on the MIX Facility in 1995.  It contains hot cells which could be used for small scale plutonium separation activities.  Because Iran’s largest research reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor, does not have the neutron flux required to produce the isotopes that would then be separated in the MIX facility, this facility is unable to operate as planned.

Between June 1987 and February 1999, while the plant was still under construction, Iran declared it irradiated gram quantities of the undeclared UO2 imported from China in the TRR in about 50 experiments, and sent it to the MIX Facility for separation of I-131.

Radiochemistry Laboratories of TNRC

The Radiochemistry Laboratories contained a glove box for radioisotope separation.  Iran has declared to the IAEA that neither the laboratory nor the radiochemistry section of TNRC still exists.  They said that the glove box used at the facility was moved to a warehouse at Esfahan in 2000.

Iran declared to the IAEA that it had carried out UF4 conversion experiments on a laboratory scale during the 1990s at the Radiochemistry Laboratories using imported depleted UO2 which had previously been declared as having been lost during processing.  Iran told the IAEA that material related to uranium conversion had been produced during bench and laboratory scale experiments at the Radiochemistry Laboratories and at Esfahan.

Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)

The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) is a 5 megawatt-thermal (MWth) pool-type light water research reactor. The United States supplied the TRR to Iran in 1967 and weapon-grade uranium fuel for the reactor. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspects this reactor.

After the 1979 revolution, Iran was no longer able to procure replacement fuel from the United States or Europe.  In 1987, the AEOI paid Argentina’s Applied Research Institute (INVAP) $5.5 million to convert the reactor’s fuel from 93 percent enriched uranium to slightly less than 20 percent enriched uranium, just below the cutoff for highly enriched uranium (HEU). (A timeline of the fuel requirements for the Tehran Research Reactor can be found here: Argentine Low-Enriched Uranium at the Tehran Research Reactor) The reactor has been operating with LEU fuel since 1993.

Of the original U.S.-supplied fuel, about 7 kilograms of irradiated HEU remains stored at the reactor site.  Iran likewise is storing irradiated Argentine-supplied LEU

The reactor has operated at 3 MW-th, partially due to a shortage of fuel. The Tehran Research Reactor is expected to run out of Argentine-supplied fuel at the end of 2010 or sometime in 2011.
Iran used this reactor to conduct activities possibly linked to early efforts to develop nuclear weapons.  Without notifying the IAEA Iran irradiated uranium oxide (UO2) targets in the TRR and separated plutonium in glove boxes at Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) laboratories.  Iran also admitted to producing small amounts of polonium-210 in the TRR in the early 1990s through the irradiation of bismuth targets.  Polonium 210 is a well-known radioactive material used in a beryllium-polonium neutron initiator that starts the chain reaction in a nuclear weapon.  Iran claims that the polonium was produced as part of a study of the production of neutron sources for use in radioisotope thermoelectric generators and not for use in a nuclear weapons neutron initiator.  The TRR was under traditional safeguards at the time of the undeclared plutonium experiments and polonium production.  This type of safeguards is not designed to detect such small-scale activities.

Fuel Swap Proposals

Tehran Research Reactor Fuel Requirements


For more information on the TRR check: Related Reports

For more information on the TNRC check: Related Reports

 

 


1 David Albright, Peddling Peril (New York: Free Press, 2010).
2 Peddling Peril, op. cit.

site imagery

Date: Jun 30, 2009
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