Iran announced on 23 August that the UK would contribute to upgrading its Arak research reactor after the USA withdrew from the nuclear deal. “Experts from Britain will replace their US counterparts during the reactor redesign process,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), experts from the USA and China were redesigning the Arak heavy water reactor to reduce the amount of plutonium produced during its operation. Iranian officials said in June that construction of the reactor would begin within three months. They also said that if the JCPOA were to be cancelled Iran would build the reactor according to its original design.
The Arak Nuclear Complex consists of a heavy water experimental reactor and a heavy water production plant. In accordance with the JCPOA, Iran had to rebuild the nuclear facility in Arak to satisfy concerns over the possible producing and reprocessing of weapons-grade plutonium. In accordance with the JCPOA, Iran filled the reactor's core with cement to render it inoperable. The redesigned plant is to be used for peaceful nuclear research in medical and industrial spheres.
Under the JCPOA - signed with the USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany - Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear development programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, US President Donald Trump announced on 8 May that Washington was pulling out the deal and would impose the highest level of economic sanctions on Iran and on any foreign company that continued to do business with it. Salehi had noted in June that Iran’s nuclear developments would remain within the JCPOA framework as long as the deal was in place.
Announcing the replacement of the US with the UK on the Arak reactor redesign working group, Salehi noted that all nuclear activities are going according to plan. “Despite the US exit from Iran nuclear deal, neither exploration, research and development nor construction of new power plants faces any problem.” He said efforts are now being made to produce medicines and build hospitals based on nuclear energy. “Most of our projects are either domestic or are being carried out in cooperation with countries such as Russia, which is doing well in fulfilling its commitments.”
He emphasised that neither development nor construction of any new power plants has faced problems as a result of the US action. On unit 2 at the Bushehr NPP, which is being built with Russian assistance, he said: "The plant is currently going ahead of schedule and we hope that it will become operational in the next six years, and two years after the second unit, a third plant will come on stream as well."
Although the other parties to the JCPOA said they would honor their commitments to the deal, Iranian officials have expressed disappointment at proposals put forward by the three European countries (the UK, Germany, and France) on how they are plan to achieve this. Some European companies have already terminated their business in Iran.
In July, the Iranian parliament's research centre prepared a comprehensive plan including a detailed list of policies to resist the US sanctions and this is now under study by senior judiciary, parliament and government officials for a final editing. The programme has reportedly been edited seven times so far, several MPs told FNA.
Iran announced earlier in August that it will soon take back a second batch of 20% enriched uranium that was being held in Russia as part of the nuclear deal, and that it will be used in the Tehran research reactor (TRR). AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on 11 August: "When we signed the nuclear agreement, we stopped production of 20% enriched fuel and sent excess stocks to Russia in 10 batches. We received the first batch back nearly seven months ago and the second will be transferred soon. Each batch can be used for almost a year and therefore we have enough 20% fuel for the TRR for at least seven to eight years."
He explained that the re-imposition of US sanctions had necessitated returning the uranium for domestic needs. “If the fuel is sold to us, we do not need to produce it by ourselves,” Kamalvandi said. “If the nuclear deal remains alive, the other parties should sell us the fuel but if the nuclear deal dies, then we would have no hesitation in producing the 20% fuel ourselves,” he added.