Iran announces new step in nuclear program
Iran will build a new domestically made nuclear research reactor near the city of Isfahan, the country's vice president and head of the national Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, said on Wednesday.
“We are planning to officially start construction on a research reactor at the Isfahan nuclear site in the coming weeks,” Eslami told reporters during a visit to the facility’s Uranium Conversion Facility (UFC).
Built in the 1980s, the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center in central Iran is the country’s largest nuclear research facility. In addition to being home to the UFC, it reportedly houses several Chinese-made research reactors, a fuel production plant and other essential nuclear infrastructure.
According to Eslami, the “entirely domestic” construction project will help Iran eventually gain access to the full nuclear energy production chain, which the country needs since the few nations that do possess this are unwilling to cooperate with Tehran.
On June 25, Eslami announced that Iran had started building its first homegrown nuclear plant. The country currently has one operating nuclear power reactor, Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), which was started back in the 1970s by German companies but finished only in the 2010s by Russia.
Iran has been gradually ramping up its nuclear program since former US President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Signed in 2015 by Tehran and a group of six nations – the United States, UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – the JCPOA, also known as the “Iran deal,” saw the Islamic Republic agree to significantly curb its nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
However, after the US withdrew from the deal and immediately reimposed its previous sanctions and later even introduced some new measures against Iran, Tehran began suspending compliance with parts of the JCPOA, including limits to uranium enrichment.
Even though US President Joe Biden has made clear his intention to revive the deal, efforts to save it have yet to show tangible results, with Washington and Tehran engaged in mutual finger-pointing over who is to blame for the lack of progress. Iranian officials insist Washington must return to the original agreement and lift sanctions in full, while the US claims Iran has been raising new demands during the talks.
While Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, the recent ramp-up in its nuclear activities has raised some concerns in the West.
In mid-July, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed that the country had the technical capability to produce a nuclear bomb but had not yet made the political decision to do so.