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Arak Nuclear Complex

  • Location
    Arak, Iran
  • Type
    Nuclear-Research Reactors
  • Facility Status
    Ongoing redesign to meet JCPOA and IAEA requirements

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About

The Arak Nuclear Complex is comprised of a heavy water experimental reactor and an adjacent heavy water production plant.

IR-40 Heavy Water Research Reactor

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. After unspecified foreign experts provided technical assistance, Iran began constructing the reactor on its own. 1 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 IAEA was unable to remotely monitor construction progress. 2 Following repeated requests, Iran provided the IAEA with access to the IR-40 reactor in August 2009, at which time the IAEA was able to carry out Design Information Verification (DIV). 3 The IAEA confirmed that the facility “at its current stage of construction conforms to the design information provided by Iran as of January 24, 2007.” 4 At the time of the inspection, Iran estimated that the plant was approximately 63% completed, including installation of the reactor vessel’s containment dome. 5

In May 2013, Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to produce 55 fuel assemblies by August 9, 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. 6

Heavy Water Production Plant

The Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) provides heavy water for the IR-40 reactor. It began operation in November 2004 and can produce up to 16 metric tons of heavy water per year. 7

The existence of the HWPP remained secret until August 14, 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed the construction of at least two secret sites related to Iran’s nuclear program. 8 The allegations prompted 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

Lead-up to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

In a letter dated January 27, 2012, the IAEA requested that Iran provide an updated DIQ for the IR-40 Reactor. 11 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.” 12 Iranian media quoted the head of the AEOI saying that Iran planned to test the reactor in 2013 using dummy fuel, and to commence operations the following year. 13

In the interim 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), Iran agreed to halt construction on the IR-40 for six months while promising to provide a DIQ to the IAEA. Iran would later be required to work with the IAEA to conclude an agreed safeguards approach for the facility. 14 In exchange for these concessions, the United States and European Union agreed to lift sanctions imposed on certain Iranian industries, and the United States also agreed to refrain from imposing further nuclear-related sanctions in the near future. 15

The Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Under the JCPOA, Iran will rebuild the Arak Nuclear Facility to satisfy concerns over the potential for spent fuel reprocessing. According to article eight of the JCPOA, the new design will prevent the facility from producing and reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium. Instead, the redesigned facility will host peaceful medical and industrial nuclear research. All spent fuel from Arak will be shipped out of Iran to a destination to be negotiated. 16 Based on previous bilateral agreements on spent fuel between Iran and Russia, Russia will likely be the final destination for spent fuel from the Arak facility. 17 18

In accordance with the JCPOA, Iran must fill the calandria, or reactor core, at the Arak facility with cement to render it unusable. 19 On January 16, 2016, the IAEA Board of Governors released a report by the Director General, which confirmed that Iran had removed and “rendered inoperable” the Arak facility’s calandria. 20

Since the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 (2015), the IAEA has issued periodic reports on Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA’s provisions. 21 The IAEA’s reports have consistently confirmed that Iran is not pursuing construction of the IR-40 based on its original design. 22 The IAEA also verified that Iran was “not producing or testing natural uranium pellets, fuel pins or fuel assemblies specifically designed for the support of the IR-40 Reactor as originally designed.” 23 The JCPOA requires Iran to store its existing pellets under IAEA supervision until they can be used in the redesigned reactor. 24

The Arak facility’s redesign is a cooperative project to be implemented by a P5+1 working group. Iran assumed full responsibility for the reconstruction; other members of the working group must provide consensus on the final design. The new facility design must use up to 3.67 percent enriched uranium in the form of UO2 (uranium dioxide), with a maximum approximate mass of 350kg. 25 Any heavy water that is not required for the redesigned Arak reactor or other Iranian nuclear projects may be exported for 15 years after the signing of the JCPOA. This covers material in excess of 130 tons before the recommissioning of the IR-40 and in excess of 90 tons after said recommissioning. The IAEA has the authority to monitor heavy water storage and production to ensure Iran’s compliance. 26

On April 12, 2017, the Chinese and Iranian ambassadors signed an agreement in Vienna cooperate on the reconstruction of the Arak reactor. The commercial agreement between the China National Nuclear Corporation and the AEOI concerned the Arak facility’s preliminary design and design-related consultation services. 27 28 This deal satisfies annex one provisions of the JCPOA and settles doubt over whether Iran would pursue the redesign with the aid of its own companies or engage the assistance of one of the parties to the JCPOA.

Glossary

Nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor: A vessel in which nuclear fission may be sustained and controlled in a chain nuclear reaction. The varieties are many, but all incorporate certain features, including: fissionable or fissile fuel; a moderating material (unless the reactor is operated on fast neutrons); a reflector to conserve escaping neutrons; provisions of removal of heat; measuring and controlling instruments; and protective devices.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Safeguards
Safeguards: A system of accounting, containment, surveillance, and inspections aimed at verifying that states are in compliance with their treaty obligations concerning the supply, manufacture, and use of civil nuclear materials. The term frequently refers to the safeguards systems maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in all nuclear facilities in non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT. IAEA safeguards aim to detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material in a timely manner. However, the term can also refer to, for example, a bilateral agreement between a supplier state and an importer state on the use of a certain nuclear technology.

See entries for Full-scope safeguards, information-driven safeguards, Information Circular 66, and Information Circular 153.
Sanctions
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.
Spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel: Irradiated nuclear fuel. Once irradiated, nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and extremely physically hot, necessitating special remote handling. Fuel is considered “self protecting” if it is sufficiently radioactive that those who might seek to divert it would not be able to handle it directly without suffering acute radiation exposure.
Reprocessing
Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Bilateral
Bilateral: Negotiations, arrangements, agreements, or treaties that affect or are between two parties—and generally two countries.
Core
The central part of a nuclear reactor where nuclear fission occurs. It contains the fuel, control rods, moderator, coolant, and support structures.
United Nations Security Council
United Nations Security Council: Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The Council consists of fifteen members, five of which—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are permanent members. The other ten members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The five permanent members possess veto powers. For additional information, see the UNSC.
Uranium
Uranium is a metal with the atomic number 92. See entries for enriched uranium, low enriched uranium, and highly enriched uranium.
P-5
P-5: The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.

Sources

  1. Robert Einhorn, “Iran’s Heavy-Water Reactor: A Plutonium Bomb Factory,” Arms Control Association, 9 November 2006, www.armscontrol.org.
  2. “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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  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 relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Report by Director General, 22 May 2013, www.iaea.org.
  7. 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.
  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 and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions,” Report by the Director General, 24 February 2012, 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, 16 November 2012, www.iaea.org.
  13. “Iran says Arak reactor to be launched in 2 years,” Iranian Students News Agency, 18 February 2012.
  14. “Joint Plan of Action,” Republic of Iran and P5+1, 24 November 2014, http://eeas.europa.eu.
  15. “Joint Plan of Action,” Republic of Iran and P5+1, 24 November 2014, http://eeas.europa.eu.
  16. U.S. Department of State, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Vienna, Austria, 14 July 2015, www.state.gov.
  17. “Russia, Iran sign nuclear construction deal for 8 units,” Russia Today, 11 November 2014, www.rt.com.
  18. Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Reaches Deal with Iran to Construct Nuclear Plants,” New York Times, 11 November 2014, www.nytimes.com.
  19. U.S. Department of State, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Annex I – Nuclear Related Measures, Vienna, Austria, 14 July 2015, www.state.gov.
  20. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015),” Report by the Director General, 16 January 2016, isis-online.org.
  21. United Nations Security Council (SC), Resolution 2231 (2015), 20 July 2015, http://guides.main.library.emory.edu.
  22. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015),” Report by the Director General, 2 June 2017, isis-online.org.
  23. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015),” Report by the Director General, 16 January 2016, isis-online.org.
  24. U.S. Department of State, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Annex I – Nuclear Related Measures, Vienna, Austria, 14 July 2015, www.state.gov.
  25. U.S. Department of State, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Annex I – Nuclear Related Measures, Vienna, Austria, 1 July 2015, www.state.gov.
  26. U.S. Department of State, Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Annex I – Nuclear Related Measures, Vienna, Austria, 14 July 2015, www.state.gov.
  27. Ben Blanchard, “Chinese, Iranian firms to sign first nuclear plant redesign contracts,” Reuters, 20 April 2017, www.reuters.com.
  28. “China, Iran sign first contract for Arak redesign,” World Nuclear News (WNN), 24 April 2017, www.world-nuclear-news.org.

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