The Saghand Mine
The Saghand Mine, located in Yazd in central Iran, is designed to extract low grade hard rock ore bodies through conventional underground mining techniques. The annual estimated production output of the mine is 50 tonnes of uranium.
According to IAEA reports, Chinese experts assessed that the mine contains approximately 1,000 tons of uranium. For some perspective on what this means, high-grade ore-bodies can contain several percent uranium (U). Low-grade bodies contain 0.1% U. Concentrations under 0.075% (750 ppm) are generally considered uneconomical to mine. Iran’s ore falls under this category, with concentrations of only 553 ppm.
Iran ostensibly began mining at this site on April 9, 2013.1
Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant
The Yellowcake Production Plant at Ardakan, typically called a mill, processes uranium ore from the Saghand mine into uranium ore concentrate (yellowcake). It is designed to process 50 tonnes of uranium per year, a capacity matching that of the Saghand mine. The installation of the infrastructure and processing buildings at Ardakan began in 2004.
On April 8, 2013, Ardakan Governor Ahmad Kamali announced that the Saghand mine and the Ardakan yellowcake production plant would soon come “on stream.”2 Iranian TV ran this video showcasing the facilities on April 19, 2013.
Gchine Mine and Mill
The Gchine mine is located in southern Iran near Bandar Abbas. The associated mill is located on site. The estimated production capacity for the mine is 21 tonnes of uranium per year. Questions were raised by the IAEA regarding the ownership of the mine and its relationship to Iran’s military. A detailed description of the IAEA’s discussions with Iran regarding the mine’s provenance and current status is contained in the February 2008 IAEA report.
The IAEA reported in 2004 that the Gchine mine and co-located mill had begun production and would eventually produce 21 tons of uranium per year. The uranium, which contains “low but variable grade uranium ore,” is located in near surface deposits that are open-pit mined.
This facility is controversial for two reasons. Iran appears not to have disclosed it to the IAEA in 2003 when Iran initially reported its fuel cycle activities to the IAEA (the November 2003 report contains a detailed list of facilities and sites associate with the nuclear fuel cycle in Iran, but makes no mention of Gchine, or the Bandar Abbas site, as it was identified by an Iranian opposition group in 2004).cite report
Second, the mine was developed by Kimia Maadan, a private company linked to the so-called alleged studies documents that suggest possible nuclear weapons-related research and development by Iran.
The output of the Gchine mine is inadequate to meet the refueling requirements of a single 1,000 MW electric power reactor, which would require approximately 250 tonnes of uranium to yield approximately 25 tonnes of low enriched uranium, enough for a single reloading of the reactor’s fuel (the initial fueling would require three times as much). Gchine produces only a fraction of the uranium needed to keep the Esfahan uranium conversion plant operating at both current and projected levels.3
However, the output of the Gchine mine is adequate for a nuclear weapons program based on highly enriched uranium. Such a program needs far less yellowcake than a commercial nuclear power program. In fact, the information in the possession of the IAEA suggests that the Gchine mine was originally intended as a source of uranium for a military nuclear program. After the exposure of Iran’s numerous secret nuclear sites in 2002-2004, Iran transferred ownership to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and relabeled the site a civilian uranium mine.
See more ISIS work assessing Iran’s yellowcake capabilities here.
For more information check: Related Reports
1 “Yellowcake Production Plant at Ardakan to come on stream Tuesday,” IRNA, April 8, 2013.
2 “Yellowcake Production Plant at Ardakan to come on stream Tuesday,” IRNA, April 8, 2013.
3 David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, “Is Iran Running Out of Yellowcake?” (Washington, DC: ISIS) February 11, 2009.