The ways in which Iran duped the six powers over the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) they signed in 2015, have been slipping out – both from Iranian nuclear officials and the nuclear archive the Israeli Mossad filched from Tehran in 2018.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, admitted in an interview on Jan. 22: “We have been saying for three years now that we did not pour cement into the pit of the Arak heavy water reactor.” This would have made the calandria unusable for the purpose for which it was designed: to hold natural uranium fuel for the production of weapon-grade plutonium for future nuclear applications.
According to a report published on Feb. 5 by David Albright and Andrea Stricker, of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, Arak was to have been disabled in late 2015 or early 2016 by pouring concrete into the pit prior to the implementation of the JCPOA. However, Salehi now reveals that Iran had surreptitiously imported “a second set of tubes for the IR-40 calandria in case the signatories reneged on their commitments.” This enables Iran to quickly restore the reactor to its original working order.
The Iranian nuclear chief stated clearly: “There are tubes where the fuel goes [in the calandria]. We had bought similar tubes, but I could not declare this at the time. Only one person in Iran knew this. We told no-one but the top man of the regime [supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei].” He went on to reveal: “When they told us to pour cement into the tubes… we said: ‘Fine. We will pour.’ But we did not tell them that we had other tubes.”
The original calandria had to be disabled and the Arak reactor itself redesigned under the nuclear deal because of its potential as an alternative pathway to a plutonium-based nuclear weapon. The reactor was capable of producing an estimated 9-10kg of plutonium per year, enough for about one or two nuclear weapons. Under the JCPOA, this process was to have been shut down for ten years, the duration of the deal.
In another interview on Jan. 30, Ali Salehi was also forthcoming on his government’s duplicity on another track: uranium enrichment for a nuclear bomb.
“Our experts used to think that Iran does not have much uranium,” he said. But “in the light of our discoveries and the search conducted from air and on land, I can tell you – as I have said many times before – that even if we are not rich in this respect, we are not poor either. Since uranium is a strategic material, we use all means at our disposal and we act quickly to produce the uranium we need on a scale that befits strategic reserves.”
Salehi went on to say, “The only condition set by the nuclear agreement regarding the [yellowcake] factory was that we must put a seal on the truck transferring the uranium from Ardakan to Isfahan [enrichment center], so that the uranium would not go to a different location.”
DEBKA Weekly infers from these comments that Iran was not barred by the nuclear deal from continuing to develop a new generation of extra-fast IR5, IR6, and IR7 centrifuges for enriching uranium to high grades.
The Iranian official then made another admission: “Forget the JCPOA,” he said, “We have been conducting tests on one IR8 unit centrifuge for five years now. If you look at our IR8 centrifuge you will see that we inject gas and uranium into it and it conducts enrichment.” Salehi said that large-scale production is not taking place at this time to avoid the problems of the slower IR1 centrifuges, 40 percent of which disintegrated. Therefore, he said, Iran used the time it had after signing the nuclear deal for research and development that would have been needed anyway to improve the advanced IR8 and reach mass production.
“Now,” he said, “less than 1 percent disintegrates.”
Last year, when Iran constructed a new factory to create centrifuge rotors. French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian warned the Islamic republic about its plan to increase uranium enrichment. Nonetheless, on Sunday, Feb. 10, Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman, said that Iran is ready to boost uranium enrichment, including 190,000 Separate Work Units, raising concerns among the European signatories of the nuclear deal. SWUs are expressed in terms of kilograms or metric tons. According to the text of the nuclear deal, Iran was supposed to “keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg. of up to 3.67% enriched uranium.”
Last year, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA, calling it “the worst deal the US had ever signed.”