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Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant

Last Modified: Aug. 21, 2013
Other Name: Pilot Yellowcake Production Facility; Yellowcake Plant
Location: Ardakan
Subordinate To: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
Size: Large industrial complex
Facility Status: Operational

The Yellowcake Production Plant at Ardakan, formerly a pilot-scale facility, processes between 50 and 70 tons of uranium ore per year into yellowcake (U308 or uranium ore concentrate). [1] The plant officially entered service in April 2013. [2] Iran did not initially disclose to the international community its intention to turn the Ardakan pilot plant, constructed with Chinese assistance, into a larger facility. [3] The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization that opposes the current Iranian regime, disclosed this allegation to the public in July 2003 and Iran confirmed its intention to build a full-scale milling facility at Ardakan in September 2003. [4]

Because it is widely believed by proliferation analysts that the Ardakan facility provides milling services to the Saghand mine, whose output is approximately 50 tons of uranium ore per year, most estimates from non-Iranian sources suggest Ardakan possesses a 50 ton processing capacity. [5] However, Hossein Faghihian, deputy head of the AEOI in charge of nuclear fuel, stated in 2008 that Ardakan would have a 70 ton processing capacity. [6] In order for the latter figure to be accurate, Iran would have to either increase the Saghand mine's output or process additional ore from mines other than Saghand. Furthermore, as the PIR Center's Anton Khlopkov and Vasily Lata point out, roughly 150 tons of yellowcake is necessary in order to fabricate fuel for one VVER-1000 reactor. [7] Ardakan's projected output is therefore clearly insufficient to indigenously fuel the Bushehr VVER-1000, but it would provide valuable additional resources should Iran wish to accumulate additional feedstock for its enrichment program. This is especially true if Iran's efforts to enrich uranium to the 20% U-235 level beginning in February 2010 isolate it from potential foreign suppliers of additional yellowcake. To derive material suitable for enrichment, Iran would only need to run the yellowcake through a uranium conversion facility, such as it possesses at Isfahan (Esfahan). [8]

While Faghihian indicated in 2008 that Ardakan would become operational by March 2009, the available evidence suggests this did not occur. [9] Analysis of satellite images taken in August 2004 and December 2008 provides evidence that Iran made additions to the complex of facilities at Ardakan, but no indications that the facilities had begun to process uranium ore into yellowcake. [10]

Sources:
[1] "Nuclear Sites, Uranium Mining, Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant," ISIS Nuclear Iran, www.isisnucleariran.org.
[2] "Yellowcake production plant at Ardakan to come on stream on Tuesday," IRNA, 8 April 2013, http://www3.yazd.irna.ir/en/.
[3] "Ardekan (Ardakan) Nuclear Fuel Site," Weapons of Mass Destruction, Global Security, www.globalsecurity.org.
[4] "Iranian opposition group says Tehran hiding two nuclear sites," AFP, 8 July 2003; and "Uranium Mining," NuclearIran, Institute for Science and International Security, www.isisnucleariran.org.
[5] "ISIS Nuclear Iran," Institute for Science and International Security, www.isisnucleariran.org
[6] Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iran to Open Uranium Processing Plant," USA Today, 4 September 2008, www.usatoday.com.
[7] Anton Khlopkov and Vasily Lata, "Iran's Missile and Nuclear Challenge: A Conundrum for Russia," The Center for Policy Studies in Russia (PIR), Summer 2003, p. 5, www.pircenter.org.
[8] Anton Khlopkov and Vasily Lata, "Iran's Missile and Nuclear Challenge: A Conundrum for Russia," The Center for Policy Studies in Russia (PIR), Summer 2003, p. 5, www.pircenter.org.
[9] Ali Akbar Dareini, "Iran to Open Uranium Processing Plant," USA Today, 4 September 2008, www.usatoday.com.
[10] The ISIS paper draws heavily on satellite imagery analysis provided by Dr. Frank Pabian in a 6 November 2008 presentation at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, "Is Iran running out of yellowcake?," Institute for Science and International Security, 11 February 2009, www.isis-online.org.

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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.

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