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UK, China Experts In Iran To Redesign, 'Upgrade' Arak Reactor

IRAN -- The heavy water nuclear facility near Arak, January 15, 201. File photo

British and Chinese nuclear delegations are visiting Iran to discuss the redesigning and upgrading of the country's heavy water reactor in Arak, Central Province, semi-official news agency ISNA reported on Monday, October 14.

The British delegation arrived in Tehran on Sunday to join a team of Chinese scientists who are also working on modernizing the heavy water reactor.

The Times of Israel confirmed the report Monday morning, quoting the British embassy in Tehran as having said: "we are upholding our obligations to cooperate’ with Tehran on modernizing Arak facility."

The statement by the embassy added that the 3-day visit to Iran by British experts “forms part of our commitment to ensuring that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) provides benefits for both Iran and the wider international community.”

The UK ambassador Rob Macaire also issued a tweet welcoming the British delegation to Tehran.

The two teams started negotiations with experts at the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Monday morning.

Tehran had removed the reactor's core, and filled parts of it with cement after the 2015 deal was forged, but Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi revealed later that it had secretly kept some key equipment intact.

Iran agreed with the remaining members of the 2015 nuclear deal, France, UK, Germany, Russia and China, in July to convert the heavy water reactor into a light water reactor to enrich Uranium at 3.67 percent level.

When the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015, the United States and China were tasked to upgrade the reactor. However, after the U.S. pull-out from the JCPOA in 2018, the United Kingdom replaced the U.S. as a collaborator in the project.

Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said in July that Tehran was about to restart activities at the heavy water nuclear plant in Arak, the Telegraph reported in late July.

"Heavy water can be used to make plutonium, an important ingredient in the construction of nuclear weapons." Wrote the Telegraph, adding that "Under the terms of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord, Tehran agreed to repurpose the facility towards research and medicine."

Following the U.S. pull-out from the JCPOA, and the re-imposition of sanctions on Tehran, Iran called on Europe to help it continue exporting oil and repatriating its oil revenue. As Europe's promises were not delivered within a year after the U.S. pull-out, Iran began to reduce its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA.

Disregarding JCPOA commitments, Iran has so far injected gas into its new generation centrifuges, ignored the limit (300 kg) set for stockpiling enriched uranium and increased the level of uranium enrichment from 3.67% to 4.5%. Furthermore, Iran has said it is going to take its 4th step in reducing its commitments by November 7.

However, in its report ISNA says that the Arak reactor “has been exempted” from Iran’s escalatory steps, since there has been progress in cooperation related to it. The news agency does not mention any source for this statement.

European parties to the JCPOA have warned Iran that going too far in reducing its nuclear obligation might lead to the death of the nuclear agreement.

Iran's state-run Press TV quoted Salehi as having said that work on the reconstruction of the Arak heavy water reactor has “picked up pace” following a pause.

According to Press TV, the 40-megawatt Arak reactor is intended to produce isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments.