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Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP)

Last Modified: Aug. 21, 2013
Other Name: Qatran Complex
Location: Khondab, near Arak
Subordinate To: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
Size: Pilot plant, capable of producing 16 metric tons of heavy water per year
Facility Status: Probably Operating

The Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) will provide heavy water for the IR-40 reactor currently under construction at Arak. The HWPP began operation in November 2004 and can produce up to 16 metric tons of heavy water per year. [1] Under an IAEA Additional Protocol agreement, heavy water plants are subject to declarations and complementary inspector access. [2] Because Iran has not ratified the Additional Protocol and does not implement it, the facility is currently not under IAEA safeguards. [3] However, the IAEA continues to monitor the status of the facility via satellite imagery. [4] Agency analysis of satellite photos indicates that the plant has been operating intermittently, including a cessation of activity since the IAEA's 5 June 2009 report. [5]

Tehran decided to begin a heavy water research and development program in the early 1980s. [6] Sometime in the 1990s, following laboratory-scale experiments to produce heavy water at the Isfahan (Esfahan) Nuclear Center, Iran decided to construct the HWPP at Khondab. [7] The facility remained secret until 14 August 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed the construction of at least two secret sites related to Iran's nuclear weapons program. [8] The allegations prompted the IAEA Director General, Mohammed El-Baradei, to question Iranian authorities about the existence of a heavy water program. [9] During El-Baradei's visit to Iran in February 2003, Iran officially declared that it was constructing the HWPP. [10]

To justify the need for such a plant, Iranian officials said in 2003 that they did not know whether their uranium enrichment program would succeed or succumb to Western pressure. Therefore, they planned to hedge their bet by constructing a natural uranium-fueled nuclear power plant, using heavy water as the moderator and coolant. [11] According to Iranian statements, the amount of heavy water initially needed for the IR-40 reactor is 80 to 90 tons, with an estimated annual need of less than one ton. [12] Assuming a maximum annual production capacity of 16 tons per year and intermittent operation for approximately five years, it seems unlikely that the HWPP has yet produced enough heavy water to moderate the IR-40 reactor. [13] However, in the early 1990s, China reportedly supplied Iran with an unspecified significant quantity of heavy water. [14] The total combined supply of HWPP-produced and Chinese supplied heavy water may therefore be sufficient for Iran's heavy water research reactor. The cessation of activity at the HWPP supported this theory, as did 30 tonnes of heavy water found by IAEA inspectors at the Isfahan (Esfahan) Uranium Conversion Facility in 2009. [15] However, using satellite imagery to monitor the HWPP, the IAEA reported that as of November 2012, "the plant appears to continue to be in operation." [16] After visiting the HWPP in August 2011, the IAEA requested additional access in October 2011 and January 2012, but Iran has not responded to these requests.

In a letter dated 27 January 2012, the IAEA also requested that Iran provide an updated Design Information Questionnaire for the IR-40 Reactor. [17] In November 2012, the Agency conducted a Design Information Verification (DIV) at the site and reported that, "the installation of cooling and moderator circuit piping was continuing." [18] Iranian media quoted the head of the AEOI that Iran plans to test the reactor in 2013 using dummy fuel, and to launch it the following year. [19] The May 2013 IAEA safeguards report indicated that Iran plans to begin operation of the IR-40 "in the third quarter of 2014." [20]

Sources:
[1] Jane's Information Group, "Iran's Heavy Water Plant is Nearly Ready," Jane's Foreign Report, 4 November 2004, www.janes.org; "Iran Inaugurates New Atomic Project," The Associated Press, 26 August 2006.
[2] Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), "Nuclear Sites: Arak Heavy Water Production Plant at Khondab," ISIS Nuclear Iran, www.isisnucleariran.org; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 28 August 2009, www.iaea.org.
[3] Judith Perera, "West Turns on Iran," Nuclear Engineering International, 9 January 2008; Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), "Nuclear Sites: Arak Heavy Water Production Plant at Khondab," ISIS Nuclear Iran, www.isisnucleariran.org.
[4] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 28 August 2009, www.iaea.org.
[5] "Iran Inaugurates New Atomic Project," The Associated Press, 26 August 2006; International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 5 June 2009, www.iaea.org.
[6] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 10 November 2003, www.iaea.org.
[7] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 26 August 2003, www.iaea.org.
[8] Anthony Cordesman, "Iran's Nuclear Weapons Programs: Work in Progress?" Center for Strategic and International Studies, 6 November 2008, www.csis.org.
[9] "Iran N-Plant Claim," The Daily Telegraph, 16 August 2002.
[10] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 6 June 2003, www.iaea.org.
[11] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 10 November 2003, www.iaea.org.
[12] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 10 November 2003, www.iaea.org.
[13] By simple calculation, the maximum amount of heavy water produced at the HWPP is 80 tons (16 tons/year * 5 years). If the HWPP is indeed operating intermittently and currently shut down, the actual amount of heavy water produced should be significantly less than 80 tons.
[14] China transported the heavy water in batches of less than twenty tons because individual transactions of more than twenty tons would have required a report to the IAEA. See: John W. Garver, China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2006), pp. 151-152.
[15] David Albright and Christina Walrond, "Update on the Arak Reactor," Institute for Science and International Security, 15 July 2013, www.isis-online.org.
[16] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 16 November 2012, www.iaea.org
[17] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions," Report by the Director General, 24 February 2012, www.iaea.org.
[18] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 16 November 2012, www.iaea.org
[19] "Iran says Arak reactor to be launched in 2 years," Iranian Students News Agency, 18 February 2012.
[20] International Atomic Energy Agency, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 22 May 2013, www.iaea.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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