The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said on Thrusday that if China does not help Iran with its Arak nuclear reactor, Iran will do it alone.
A day earlier, Salehi had bitterly criticized China. “Ever since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal, China has slowed its cooperation with Iran for redesigning the Arak reactor,” Salehi told the Islamic Republic’s official news agency, IRNA, January 30.
According to Salehi, the Chinese are shirking their commitments because they know if they continue to cooperate with Iran, they could be targeted by U.S. sanctions reimposed on companies that continue to do business in Iran after the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal last May.
The future of the Arak heavy water reactor was one of the major sticking points in the nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the United Nation's Security Council, China, France, Russia, US, and UK, along with Germany (5+1). World powers are concerned the Arak facility could be used to produce plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons.
Under the now scrapped nuclear deal, Iran had agreed to decommission the reactor and re-purpose it for civilian use with U.S. and Chinese assistance, a collaboration that is now untenable due to the risk of U.S. sanctions on companies operating in Iran’s nuclear sector.
In January 2016, the Iranian government removed the reactor’s core and filled some of its critical pipes with cement, effectively decommissioning. But Salehi said in an interview last week that Iran has spare pipes just in case the deal fell apart. This information was kept from the U.S. and possibly other signatories of the agreement.
Following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the UK became supervisor in the redesign of the reactor. Based on the new design, the reactor will operate as a hybrid water reactor that will use both heavy and light water as its coolant and moderator.
In his latest remarks Salehi said that the new design of the reactor has been approved by the two supervising countries but the details are "half-way through". By threatening to finish the design all by itself, Iran seems to be saying it will not seek approval any longer.
He added that 900 Iranian experts are currently working on the project.
While admonishing the Chinese for reneging on their agreement, Salehi said Iran has “alternative options” for Arak’s redesign.
Despite Tehran's insistence on the civilian purposes of Arak reactor, nuclear physicist Behrouz Bayat told Radio Farda, "Most of the world's research reactors are light water or other kinds of models, therefore, it made room for suspicion to see the Islamic Republic going after a heavy water model that produces plutonium."