Iranian and Russian officials are discussing building several new nuclear power plants in Iran, according to an article published Thursday by the news agency Trend.
The two countries are working together to build as many as eight new nuclear power plants as well as modernize existing reactors, according to Trend. One of these reactors will be capable of enriching uranium and plutonium, but not to weapons-grade levels.
“We expect the Iranian customer will determine site parameters and engineering will start before the year-end,” according to the Russian-government controlled news agency TASS. Tass reported that the construction site for the new nuclear power units in Iran may start in the next two years.
The stated purpose of these planned reactors is to generate electricity, power desalination plants and reduce domestic oil consumption so Iran can sell the oil abroad.
This is not the first time Russia has promised to help Iran develop nuclear power. The two governments agree to jointly build and operate a two-reactor plant in Bushehr in 1992. The reactor was originally intended to desalinate water, but the project ran into serious technical problems and did not become operational until September of 2013, according to the World Nuclear Association.
The U.S. Department of Energy is collaborating with Iranian officials to modernize another one of Iran’s nuclear reactors as part of the Iran Deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan that was agreed to last year. The modernized reactor, at Arak, will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and will be redesigned to a lower power level to produce smaller quantities of plutonium. Lower quality plutonium, however, could still be used to make low-tech nuclear explosives often called “dirty bombs.”
The Obama administration began secret talks with Iran in March 2013 to get the country to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. Iran and America agreed to a deal earlier last year, despite opposition from congressional Republicans. House lawmakers rejected the Iran deal in September in a 269 to 162 vote. Republicans argued it was dangerous to legitimize Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, and critics also argued Iran could violate the agreement. Senate Republicans, however, failed to get enough Democrats to vote against the Iran deal.
Under the terms of the deal, Iran will reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium along with its capacity to enrich new uranium. Over the next 15 years, Iran will enrich uranium to levels below those required to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran won’t build any new uranium-enriching facilities, except the Arak facility. In exchange, U.S., Europe, and United Nations economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted.
The Arak reactor is a natural uranium-fueled, heavy-water reactor originally designed for making weapons-grade plutonium, which could be used for nuclear weapons. Spent fuel from heavy-water reactors contains plutonium suitable for nuclear bombs. The Arak reactor could produce 10 to 12 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough weapons-grade material to produce one to two nuclear weapons annually, according to research. Arak’s stated purpose, however, is to make radioisotopes for medical and agricultural purposes
The Iranian government claims that Arak’s nuclear materials would not be turned into weapons-grade plutonium, but similar reactors have been used for weapons-grade production in other countries, including India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. All of those countries now possess nuclear weapons.
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