Iran builds new nuclear research reactor in Isfahan
This week, the head of Tehran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) said the country was about to start construction of a new nuclear research reactor at the Isfahan nuclear facility. The state media of the Islamic Republic of Iran Fars The news agency quoted the IAEO official as saying that “Iran has a new plan to generate 10,000 megawatts of nuclear power and work is underway to choose suitable places to build nuclear facilities in the country, especially in the south”. The remarks come amid the stalling of joint US-Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna. Tehran’s demand to expand its nuclear research capacity could be a veiled threat to the United States and its other adversaries to give the regime the concessions it demanded in the negotiations.
IAEO chief Mohammad Eslami underlined Iran’s ambition to develop the new nuclear research reactor “in a completely indigenous way”. Eslami also inferred that one of the main obstacles to Iran’s nuclear growth is the smaller capacity of the country’s national power plants. “In this sense, we will use international partnerships and we will not wait for anyone, because Iran has sufficient scientific, industrial and technological capabilities,” Eslami said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “Fortunately, there are major companies in the country that can support the 10,000 megawatt nuclear power generation program, and we also support any company and institution that participates in the Atomic Energy Organization’s program of Iran.”
The Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (INTC) in Iran is the largest and most sophisticated nuclear research complex in the country. Built in the mid-1980s with the help of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the INTC is widely believed to be the epicenter of Tehran’s secret underground nuclear weapons program. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the complex includes three research reactors provided by China and performs various functions for the regime’s nuclear development. The complex also operated a fuel production plant, a conversion facility and employs approximately 3,000 scientists. The Uranium Conversion Facility was built at INTC in the early 1990s and is responsible for converting yellowcake into three forms: uranium oxide, uranium hexafluoride, and uranium metal .
Despite Iran’s development of its nuclear sector, the regime consistently refutes the perception that its goals are anything but “peaceful” and “defensive”. In this regard, Eslami said: “Throughout this time and in none of the inspections conducted by the agency, not even in one case, has it been announced that Iran has not announced its intention and its plan in advance or concealed it. These cases are documented, and therefore, the expression of these news and contents serves no purpose other than to waste time and tire the other party.
However, many of Tehran’s actions regarding its nuclear facilities, uranium accumulation and failure to meet international standards reflect the opposite. In June, the international monitoring organization the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution denouncing Tehran for failing to explain the presence of traces of uranium at three undeclared sites. Last week, Eslami responded to the IAEA’s request by saying Iran would not respond to the allegations. According to Reuters, Eslami added that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “cleansed Iran of so-called allegations of possible military dimensions”.
After the IAEA overwhelmingly agreed to release the resolution criticizing Iran, the regime told the global watchdog it would remove more than two dozen surveillance cameras from its nuclear facilities. Under the guise of the 2015 JCPOA, Tehran agreed to allow the IAEA to thoroughly review and monitor its nuclear efforts in return for economic sanctions relief. After the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, sanctions were reimposed on the regime.
For months, the White House remained determined to reinstate some version of the JCPOA. In fact, President Biden has repeatedly said this is a priority for the administration. However, the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna have stalled for various reasons in recent months. One of the main obstacles to pursuing indirect negotiations is the regime’s insistence that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. So far, Biden has refused to accept this concession. In the past few months alone, the IRGC and its affiliates have carried out several attacks targeting US military personnel and assets in Iraq and Syria. From October to May this year, Iranian proxies launched a total of 29 attacks, according to NBC information. It seems unlikely that the IRGC will be removed from the terrorist list as it launches frequent barrages of drones, rockets and missiles targeting US assets in the region.
Iran’s self-declared plan to build a new nuclear research facility is the country’s latest escalation in its nuclear saga. As the time for the nuclear eruption approaches, the regime’s intentions seem more malignant than ever.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East defense editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.