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IR-40

Last Modified: Aug. 21, 2013
Other Name: 40MW Heavy Water Research Reactor
Location: Arak
Subordinate To: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
Size: 40MW
Facility Status: Under construction, expected to go critical in 2014

In a letter dated 5 May 2003, Iran informed the IAEA for the first time of its plan to construct a 40MW(t) heavy water research reactor fueled by natural uranium oxide. [1] The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) states that the reactor, called the IR-40, will be used for research, radioisotope production, and technical training. [2] The reactor is expected to become operational in late 2014.

Iran tried to purchase a heavy water moderated reactor in the 1990s. Tehran secretly approached at least four nuclear suppliers, but was repeatedly turned down. However, after unspecified foreign experts provided technical assistance, Iran began constructing the reactor on its own. [3] Starting in August 2008, Iran stopped permitting IAEA visits to the construction site. After Iran completed construction of the reactor vessel's containment dome, the Agency was unable to remotely monitor construction progress. [4] Following repeated requests, Iran provided the IAEA access to the IR-40 reactor in August 2009, at which time the Agency was able to carry out design information verification (DIV). [5] The IAEA confirmed that the facility "at its current stage of construction conforms to the design information provided by Iran as of 24 January 2007," although Iran still has not provided updated and detailed design information. [6] At the time of the inspection, Iran estimated that the plant was approximately 63% completed, including installation of the reactor vessel's containment dome. [7]

Heavy water reactors are of proliferation concern because they are optimal for the production of high quality, weapons-grade plutonium. The reactors also do not require enriched uranium to produce weapons-usable material, as they are fueled by natural uranium. [8] The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates that if operated efficiently, the IR-40 will be capable of producing 9kg of plutonium annually, enough for approximately one-and-a-half nuclear weapons per year. [9] Before Iran could use any of the plutonium in a nuclear weapon, however, it would first need to separate it from the reactor's spent fuel. There are currently no known spent fuel reprocessing facilities in Iran. In 2004, Iran declared that due to difficulties in obtaining equipment and technical information, it would not consider constructing hot cells for long-lived radioisotopes at the Arak complex. [10] Yet according to the August 2009 IAEA report, Iran stated that it had been trying to procure hot cell windows and manipulators for the IR-40 from foreign sources, and was considering producing them domestically. [11]

In May 2013, Iran reported its commissioning schedule for the IR-40 to the IAEA as follows: "Phase 1 – pre-commissioning (using dummy fuel assemblies and light water) in the fourth quarter of 2013; Phase 2 – commissioning (using real fuel assemblies and heavy water) in the first quarter of 2014; expected to become operational during the third quarter of 2014." Iran further informed the Agency of its plans to produce 55 fuel assemblies by 9 August 2013. In its May 2013 report, the IAEA highlighted Iran's failure to provide an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the reactor since 2006, thereby falling short of meeting its obligations under the modified Code 3.1 of the General Part of the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguards Agreement. The report further underlined the impact of this failure on the IAEA's ability to verify the design of the facility, and to implement an effective safeguards approach in light of the approaching date of the IR-40's operation. [12] In July 2013 David Albright and Christina Walrond of the Institute for Science and International Security reported that in spite of sanctions they expect construction on the IR-40 will be completed by 2014, although delays in commissioning are expected. [13]

Many nonproliferation analysts question the need for a large, heavy water-moderated reactor for scientific research and isotope production. Robert Einhorn argued in 2006 that "much smaller, light-water research reactors are fully satisfactory for the kinds of applications Iran says it is interested in," and compared Iran's plan to use the IR-40 for peaceful purposes to using a 12-inch hunting knife for spreading jam on toast. [14] In response to an IAEA query, Iranian officials stated that that they had planned to procure a new reactor from abroad to replace the aging Tehran Research Reactor, but were unsuccessful. Instead, Iran decided to construct a heavy water reactor fueled by natural uranium oxide, and determined that a 30-40 MW(t) capacity was necessary for sufficient neutron  flux. [15]

Sources:
[1] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 6 June 2003, www.iaea.org.
[2] David Albright and Paul Brannan, "Arak Heavy Water Reactor Construction Progressing," The Institute for Science and International Security, 13 November 2008, www.isis-online.org.
[3] Robert Einhorn, "Iran's Heavy-Water Reactor: A Plutonium Bomb Factory," Arms Control Association, 9 November 2006, www.armscontrol.org.
[4] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the Relevant Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 5 June 2009, www.iaea.org.
[5] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the Relevant 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.
[6] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the Relevant 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.
[7] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the Relevant 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.
[8] Robert Einhorn, "Iran's Heavy-Water Reactor: A Plutonium Bomb Factory," Arms Control Association, 9 November 2006, www.armscontrol.org.
[9] The IAEA considers six kilograms of plutonium sufficient for production of a nuclear weapon. David Albright and Paul Brannan, "Arak Heavy Water Reactor Construction Progressing," The Institute for Science and International Security, 13 November 2008.
[10] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 1 June 2004, www.iaea.org.
[11] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the Relevant 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.
[12] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by Director General, 22 May 2013, www.iaea.org.
[13] David Albright and Christina Walrond, "Update on the Arak Reactor," Institute for Science and International Security, 15 July 2013, www.isis-online.org.
[14] Robert Einhorn, "Iran's Heavy-Water Reactor: A Plutonium Bomb Factory," Arms Control Association, 9 November 2006, www.armscontrol.org.
[15] 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.

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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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