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Facilities Last updated: December, 2013

Biological

Nuclear

  • Iran's interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s, when the Shah of Iran began receiving American assistance through the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. Subsequently, the Shah announced an ambitious plan to develop 23 nuclear power plants, research reactors, a uranium enrichment facility, and a plant for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The 1979 Iranian Revolution stalled Iran's nuclear program, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini largely abandoned the Shah's ambitious agenda, canceling almost all of the Islamic Republic's nuclear contracts with foreign companies. However, Iran began investing more heavily in nuclear technology again following the Iran-Iraq War, working to develop an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capability. Many of these activities only became known to the international community beginning in 2003, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed several undeclared nuclear facilities. Iran's continued insistence on the right to an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle and its rapidly progressing technical capabilities are an ongoing source of concern to the international community.

    Relevant Individuals and Institutions

    Initially, the Shah asked the Ministry of Power and Water to conduct a feasibility study for Iran's nuclear power program. However, the Ministry lacked the experience and the expertise to carry out the study. A lack of qualified personnel forced the Shah to turn to the Montreal Engineering Company and Monenco of Iran, who concluded that nuclear energy would be economically competitive for Iran.[1]

    The parliament therefore passed the Atomic Energy Act of Iran, creating the bureaucratic and legal authority for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), which the Shah established in 1973, choosing Dr. Akbar Etemad as its first leader.[2] The Shah granted Dr. Etemad wide-ranging powers and almost total independence, charging him with purchasing "turn key" reactors and equipment for a closed nuclear fuel cycle.[3] Shortly before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Dr. Etemad was accused of corruption and fled the country.[4]

    Following the Revolution, Dr. Reza Amrollahi was placed in charge of the AEOI, but the new government showed little interest in continuing the Shah's ambitious nuclear program.[5] Following Khomeini's death in 1989, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hashemi Rafsanjani accelerated the pace of Iran's dormant nuclear program and began actively seeking foreign suppliers to develop Iran's indigenous capabilities.[6] After Mohammed Khatami was elected president in 1997 he replaced Dr. Amrollahi with former Petroleum Minister Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, charging Aghazadeh with making the AEOI more efficient and transparent.[7]

    Following the controversial 2009 presidential election, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh resigned from his position, having served as head of the AEOI for twelve years. Agazadeh has not commented publicly about his resignation, but is a close associate of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Reformist candidate who lost the election amongst numerous allegations of voter fraud. Ali Akbar Salehi, a U.S.-trained physicist who was Iran's top envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been selected as the AEOI's new head.[8]

    Funding for the Nuclear Program

    Neither the AEOI's operating budget nor a comprehensive estimate of the cost of Iran's nuclear program is publicly available.[9] Iran reportedly purchased disassembled P-1 centrifuges, centrifuge design information, and blueprints for an enrichment plant from the Khan network in 1987 for $3 million.[10] Again in 1993, Iran allegedly paid the Khan network $3 million for five hundred unassembled P-1 centrifuges, P-2 centrifuge design information, and related materials.[11] In March 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that Iran had received $15 million from the IAEA's Technical Cooperation Program between 1997 and 2007, which promotes peaceful uses of nuclear technology. However, the program is funded by member state contributions, fueling U.S. congressional concerns that despite sanctions, the United States had indirectly aided Iran's nuclear program.[12]

    Iran's Past, Present, and Planned Nuclear Facilities

    The United States supplied the Tehran Nuclear Research Center with a small 5MWt research reactor, fueled by highly enriched uranium, in 1967.[13] In 1973, the Shah created the AEOI to oversee the nuclear program's expansion and concluded several agreements with foreign contractors for nuclear assistance, equipment, and personnel training.[14] The following year, Iran contracted Kraftwerk Union, a subsidiary of Siemens, to build two 1,200 to 1,300 MWe pressurized light water reactors at Bushehr.

    Following the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini froze construction at Bushehr and re-evaluated Iran's nuclear program before reinstituting it in 1982.[15] Khomeini reorganized the AEOI and placed an emphasis on technology acquisition, research, and development. Wary of Western technology, Khomeini tasked the AEOI with developing indigenous nuclear technology.[16]

    It is unclear how many people presently work at the AEOI, which once employed roughly 4,500 people, [17] because after the 1979 Iranian Revolution many leading nuclear scientists left the country. In the 1990's, the AEOI reportedly employed "around 200 scientists and 2,000 personnel engaged in nuclear research."[18]

    Western intelligence agencies have long suspected Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for clandestine weapons research. Much of the recent controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program centers around the National Council for the Resistance of Iran's (NCRI) 2003 disclosure of previously undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran, including Natanz, the Kalaye Electric Company, a heavy water production plant under construction at Arak, and the names of individuals and front companies involved in Iran's clandestine nuclear program.[19] These revelations prompted Iran to announce that it was planning to construct nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 6,000 MW, and to develop various technologies relating to the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear safety, and waste management.[20]

    Currently, Iran is investing heavily in developing its fuel cycle facilities. The AEOI oversees uranium milling and mining at Saghand, yellowcake production at Ardakan, conversion at Esfahan, enrichment at Natanz, fuel fabrication at Esfahan, and an interim waste facility at Anarak.[21] The AEOI also oversees the Nuclear Research Center in Tehran (TNRC), the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (INTC), the Nuclear Research Center for Agriculture and Medicine, and the Beneficiation and Hydrometalurgical Research Center (BHRC).[22]

    Sources:
    [1] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Iran," April 2003, pp. 2-5, www.opensource.gov.
    [2] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Iran," April 2003, pp. 2-5, www.opensource.gov.
    [3] William Burr, "The History of Iran's Nuclear Energy Program," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 19 January 2009.
    [4] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Iran," April 2003, pp. 2-5, www.opensource.gov.
    [5] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 9.
    [6] Iran's Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2005), p. 9.
    [7] Anthony Cordesman, "Iran and Nuclear Weapons: Background Paper for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 24 March 2000.
    [8] "Iranian Nuclear Chief Steps Down," BBC News, 16 July 2009; Ali Akbar Dareini, "Ahmadinejad Appoint New Nuclear Chief," The Associated Press, 17 July 2009.
    [9] Thomas Wood, Matthew Milazzo, Barbara Reichmuth and Jeffrey Beddel, "The Economics of Energy Independence for Iran," The Nonproliferation Review, March 2007, pp. 90-99.
    [10] Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2007), p. 69.
    [11] Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the Rise of Proliferation Networks, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2007), p. 70.
    [12] Government Accountability Office, "Nuclear Nonproliferation: Strengthened Oversight Needed to Address Proliferation and Management Challenges in IAEA's Technical Cooperation Program," GAO-09-275, 5 March 2009.
    [13] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, D.C., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 298.
    [14] M. Ghannadi-Margheh, "Atomic Energy Organization of Iran," World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, London, 4-6 September 2002.
    [15] Paul Kerr, "Iran's Nuclear Program: Status," Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, 20 November 2008.
    [16] M. Ghannadi-Margheh, "Atomic Energy Organization of Iran," World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, London, 4-6 September 2002.
    [17] Andrew Rathmell, "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions," Jane's Intelligence Review, Special Report No. 6: Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction, June 1995, p. 12.
    [18] Andrew Rathmell, "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions," Jane's Intelligence Review, Special Report No. 6: Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction, June 1995, p. 12.
    [19] Paul Kerr, "Iran's Nuclear Program: Status," Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, 20 November 2008.
    [20] "Statement by Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran," General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 16 September 2002.
    [21] Iran's Nuclear Fuel Cycle," Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), www.isisnucleariran.org.
    [22] M. Ghannadi-Margheh, "Atomic Energy Organization of Iran," World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, London, 4-6 September 2002.

    Facilities Descriptions

    Nuclear-Heavy Water Production
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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Iran

  • Nuclear program condemned and sanctioned under multiple UN Security Council Resolutions
  • Possesses ballistic missiles with a range of at least 1,500 km
  • Produced 95.4 kg of UF6 enriched up to 20% as of February 2012