Yesterday’s reports that Iran had removed the core from its Arak heavy-water reactor and filled it with cement, one of the last steps to compliance with the P5+1 nuclear deal, turns out to have been false, according to Iranian officials, who say the process of removing the core is still ongoing, but likely won’t be done for a few days.
Deputy nuclear chief Ali Asghar Zarean also sought to clarify the point that it is the old reactor core that is to be rendered unusable, not the reactor itself, and that per the deal Iran will have one of the P5+1 nations, likely China, provide a redesign to the reactor.
Arak was envisioned as a replacement for the US-built Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which is 50 years old and uses highly enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes. Objections over Iran enriching to high levels to make fuel for the TRR led to the decision to make Arak a heavy-water plant, which uses unenriched uranium.
This led to complaints, however, that the waste would include plutonium, though Iran had no facilities to reprocess the waste into a usable form. The alternative design is to produce much less plutonium as a waste product. This will allow Iran to produce the medical isotopes in a modern facility, and Iran’s significant heavy-water production capacity is expected to lead to exports of heavy-water abroad.
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