Iran's nuclear program

From Academic Kids


The Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program goes back many decades. However, in recent years, due to global political changes Iran is finding its program under severe scrutiny and even facing charges of developing a nuclear weapon capability.

Iran had maintained that the purpose of its nuclear program was the generation of power; any other use being a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory.

In a stunning revelation on August 14, 2002, a leading critic of Tehran, Alireza Jafarzadeh revealed two secret nuclear sites, a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and a heavy water facility in Arak.

The U.S. had insisted late in 2003 that Tehran be "held accountable" for allegedly seeking to build nuclear arms in violation of its agreements. Since then Iran's nuclear development program has taken a center stage in Middle Eastern as well as world politics.

On November 14, 2004, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator said that his country agreed to voluntarily and temporarily suspend the uranium enrichment program after pressure from the European Union on behalf of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, as a confidence-building measure for a reasonable period of time, with six months mentioned as a reference. However, on November 24 Iran sought to amend the terms of its agreement with the EU to exclude a handful of the equipment from this deal for research work. This request was dropped four days later.

The U.S. has also alleged that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear missiles.

After three years of continued controversy and pressure, mostly in the Western media, as of January 2005, neither IAEA has found any evidence to support the charges that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, nor has the US or any other countries provided any evidence to support such claims.



The foundations for Iran's nuclear program were laid in the 1960 under auspices of the US within the framework of bilateral agreements between the two countries. In 1967 the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) was built and run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). The TNRC was equipped with a US supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor. Iran signed and ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. With the establishment of Iran's atomic agency and the NPT in place plans were drawn by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (Iran's King) to construct up to 23 nuclear power stations across the country together with USA by the year 2000.

By 1975, The US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, had signed National Security Decision Memorandum 292, titled "U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation," which laid out the details of the sale of nuclear energy equipment to Iran projected to bring U.S. corporations more than $6 billion in revenue. At the time, Iran was pumping as much as 6 million barrels (950,000 m³) of oil a day, compared with an average of about 4 million barrels (640,000 m³) daily today.

President Gerald R. Ford even signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. The deal was for a complete "nuclear fuel cycle".

The shah, who referred to oil as "noble fuel," said it was too valuable to waste on daily energy needs. The Ford strategy paper said the "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."[1]

The Bushehr project

Missing image
The Bushehr Nuclear Power Facility in southern Iran
Missing image
Map of southern Iran, showing the location of Bushehr

The Bushehr Nuclear Power Facility is located 17 kilometers south of the city of Bushehr (also known as Bushire), between the fishing villages of Halileh and Bandargeh along the Persian Gulf.

The facility was the idea of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who envisioned a time when the world's oil supply would run out. He said that, "Petroleum is a noble material, much too valuable to burn." Instead, he wanted a national electrical grid powered by clean nuclear power plants. Bushehr would be the first plant, and would supply energy to the inland city of Shiraz.

In 1975, the Bonn firm Kraftwerk-Union A.G., a joint venture of Siemens AG and A.E.G Telefunken, signed a contract worth $4 to $6 billion to build the nuclear power plant. Construction of the two nuclear generating units was subcontracted to ThyssenKrupp AG, and was to have been completed in 1981.

Kraftwerk-Union was eager to work with the Iranian government because, as spokesman Joachim Hospe said in 1976, "To fully exploit our nuclear power plant capacity, we have to land at least three contracts a year for delivery abroad. The market here is about saturated, and the United States has cornered most of the rest of Europe, so we have to concentrate on the third world."

Kraftwerk-Union fully withdrew from the Bushehr nuclear project in July 1979, after work stopped in January 1979, with one reactor 50% complete, and the other reactor 85% complete. They said they based their action on Iran's non-payment of $450 million in overdue payments. The company had received $2.5 billion of the total contract. Their cancellation came after certainty that the Iranian government would uniltaterally terminate the contract themselves, following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which paralyzed Iran's economy.

In 1984, Kraftwerk-Union did a preliminary assesment to see if it could resume work on the project, but declined to do so while the Iraq-Iran war continued. In April of that year, the US State Department said, "We believe it would take at least two to three years to complete construction of the reactors at Bushehr." The spokesperson also said that the light water power reactors at Bushehr "are not particularly well-suited for a weapons program." The spokesman went on to say, "In addition, we have no evidence of Iranian construction of other facilities that would be necessary to separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel."

The reactors were then damaged by multiple Iraqi air strikes between March 24, 1984 to 1988. Shortly afterwards Iraq invaded Iran and the nuclear programme was stopped until the end of the war.

In 1990, Iran began to look outwards towards partners for its nuclear programme; however, due to a radically different political climate and punitive US economic sanctions, few candidates existed.

In 1995 Iran signed a contract with Russia to resume work on the half complete Bushehr plant. The construction is being done by the state-controlled company Atomstroyexport (Russian for Atomic Construction Export), an arm of Russia's atomic energy ministry, Minatom. The Russians claim that because the reactor will be used for civilian purposes only, their contract is legitimate under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In late 2001, US intelligence officers told journalist Seymour Hersh that Iran's most important nuclear facilities were not at Bushehr, which can be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but at clandestine sites under military control.

It was not until 2002 that the USA began to question Iran's nuclear intentions after the MKO (an anti-government guerrilla group) revealed the existence of the Natanz and Arak facilities.

Iranian side

Iran claims that nuclear power is necessary for a booming population and rapidly industrialising nation. It points to the fact that Iran's population has more than doubled in 20 years, the country regularly imports gasoline and electricity, and that burning fossil fuel in large amounts harms Iran's environment drastically [1] ( Additionally, Iran questions why it shouldn't be allowed to diversify its sources of energy, especially when there are fears of its oil fields eventually being depleted. It continues to argue that its valuable oil should be used for high value products, not simple electricity generation. Iran also raises financial questions, claiming that developing the excess capacity in its oil industry would cost it $40 billion, let alone pay for the power plants. Harnessing nuclear power costs a fraction of this, considering Iran has abundant supplies of accessible uranium ore [2] (

Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the NPT. Iran, and many other developing nations who are signatory to the NPT, believe the Western position to be hypocritical, claiming that the NPT's original purpose was universal nuclear disarmament. ([3] (,8599,726557,00.html)) Iran also compares its treatment as a signatory to the NPT with three nations that have not ratified the NPT: Israel, India, and Pakistan. Each of these nations developed an indigenous nuclear weapons capability: Israel by 1968 [4] (, India by 1974 [5] ( and Pakistan by 1998 [6] (

US claims

Since 2002, the US has countered that Iran does not need nuclear power due to its abundant oil reserves since, the US argues, oil power is cheaper to produce than nuclear power.

However, one theory behind US resistance lies in Middle Eastern geopolitics. In essence, the US thinks that it must guard against the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Furthermore, the particular type of nuclear power Iran is pursuing is termed by critics as being dual-use technology—i.e. it can be used for peaceful energy generation, but the same technology, it is argued, could also be used to develop nuclear weapons, the same sort of situation which resulted in India's own nuclear weapons programme in the 1960s.

International response

The claims and counter claims have put an immense amount of pressure on Iran to reveal all aspects of its nuclear programme to date. A great deal of this pressure has come from Iran's trade partners: Europe, Japan, and Russia. Iran has been slow to respond, claiming the pressure is an attempt by the US government to prevent it from obtaining nuclear technology.

Since the involvement of the IAEA, under the auspicies of Mohamed ElBaradei and the UN, Iran has responded to the American accusations by cooperating with the agency. But the degree of cooperation has varied depending on other geopolitical issues: at times the IAEA has had to admonish Iran, while at other times it has praised it.


Note: there have been significant developments since this report has been published. [7] ( IAEA finds enriched uranium samples are not Iranian. Iran signs the additional protocol etc.


Missing image
Zirconium Production Plant (ZPP), Isfahan. Iran. Here, special alloys are made that have direct applications in claddings for nuclear power plants. The ZPP plant is also capable of producing other special alloys for industrial purposes.
  • Bushehr: A two reactor light water nuclear power plant. [8] (
  • Arak: A heavy water production facility. Heavy water is used as a moderator in some reactors. Iran has plans to build a heavy water reactor at this location at a later date. [9] (
  • Saghand: (Template:Coor dms) Location of Iran's first uranium ore mines, expected to become operational by March 2005. The deposit is estimated to contain 3,000 to 5,000 tons of uranium oxide at a density of about 500 ppm over an area of 100 to 150 square kilometers. [10] ([11] (
  • Natanz: This is a uranium enrichment facility for converting uranium ore into a form usable by power plants. It can also create highly enriched uranium HEU. [12] (
  • Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC): Run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). It is equipped with a US supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor capable of producing 600g of plutonium annually in spent fuel.
  • Nuclear Technology Center of Isfahan: A nuclear research facility. The Isfahan Center currently operates four small nuclear research reactors, all supplied by China. It is run by the AEOI. [13] (
Missing image
Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF), Isfahan. Here, Uranium Oxides are claimed to be produced as well as Uranium Hexafluoride and other Uranium compounds. This facility constitutes the fuel fabrication part of Iran's fuel cycle.
  • Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, located in Isfahan converts yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride. As of late October 2004, the site is 70% operational with 21 of 24 workshops completed. There is also a Zirconium Production Plant (ZPP) located nearby that produces the necessary ingredients and alloys for nuclear reactors. [14] (
  • Bonab Atomic Energy Research Center: Research facility investigating the applications of nuclear technology in agriculture. It is run by the AEOI.
  • Center for Agricultural Research and Nuclear Medicine at Hashtgerd, Karaj: Established in 1991 and run by the AEOI. [15] (
  • Anarak waste storage site, near Yazd.
  • Ardekan Nuclear Fuel Site: Construction is reportedly scheduled to be finished in mid-2005.
  • Lashkar Ab’ad pilot plant for isotope separation. Established in 2002, laser enrichment experiments were carried out there, however, the plant has been shut down since Iran declared it has no intentions of enriching uranium using the laser isotope separation technique.
  • Parchin: Suspected, but not confirmed facility, according to the IAEA.
  • Lavizan II: Suspected, but not confirmed facility, according to the IAEA.
  • Chalous: Suspected, but not confirmed facility, according to the IAEA.
  • Yazd Radiation Processing Center


1967: The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is built and run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).

July 1968: Iran signs the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and ratifies it. It goes into effect on March 5, 1970.

1970s: Under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (Iran's King), plans are made to construct up to twenty nuclear power stations across the country with U.S. support and backing. Numerous contracts are signed with various Western firms, and the German firm Kraftwerk Union (a subsidiary of Siemens AG) begins construction on the Bushehr power plant in 1974.

1975: Massachusetts Institute of Technology signs a contract with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to provide training for Iranian nuclear engineers.

1979: Iran's Islamic revolution puts a freeze on the existing nuclear program and the Bushehr contract with Siemens AG is terminated as the German firm leaves.

1980-1988: The program is halted due to the Iran-Iraq war.

In 1990, Iran begins negotiations with Russia regarding the re-construction of the Bushehr power plant.

In 1992, Iran signs an agreement with China for the building of two 950-watt reactors in Darkhovin (Western Iran). To date, construction has not yet begun.

In January 1995, Iran signs an USD $800 million contract with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MinAtom) to complete reactors at Bushehr under IAEA safeguards. [16] (

In August 2002, a leading critic of Tehran, Alireza Jafarzadeh, relying on the information obtained from sources well placed within the Iranian regime, and leaked by Iran's main opposition organization, the MEK, exposed two secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak.

In December 2002, the U.S. accuses Iran of attempting to make nuclear weapons.

16 June 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, declares that "Iran failed to report certain nuclear materials and activities" and requests "co-operative actions" from the country. However, at no point does the International Atomic Energy Agency declare Iran in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. [17] (

In October 2003, Iran begins to hold negotiations with IAEA members with respect to a more stringent set of nuclear inspections.[18] (

On October 31, 2003, The IAEA declares that Iran has submitted a "comprehensive" declaration of its nuclear program. [19] (

On November 11, 2003, The IAEA declares that there is no evidence that Iran is attempting to build an atomic bomb. [20] (

On November 13, 2003, Washington claims that the IAEA report is "impossible to believe". The UN stands behind the facts provided in the report. [21] (

In June 2004, Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, responding to demands that Iran halt its nuclear program, says: "We won't accept any new obligations. Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognised by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path." [22] (

On June 14, 2004, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, accuses Iran of "less than satisfactory" cooperation during the IAEA's investigation of its nuclear program. ElBaradei demands "accelerated and proactive cooperation" from Iran. (NYT) (

On July 27, 2004, Iran breaks seals placed upon uranium centrifuges by the International Atomic Energy Agency and resumes construction of the centrifuges at Natanz. (AP) (

On July 31, 2004, Iran states that it has resumed building nuclear centrifuges to enrich uranium, reversing a voluntary October 2003 pledge to Britain, France, and Germany to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities. The United States contends that the purpose is to produce weapons-grade uranium. (Reuters) (

On August 10, 2004, several long-standing charges and questions regarding weapons-grade uranium samples are clarified by the IAEA. The samples match Pakistani and Russian sources which had contaminated imported Iranian equipment from those countries. (Jane's Intelligence) (

On August 24, 2004, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi declares in Wellington, New Zealand, that Iran will retaliate with force against Israel or any nation that attempts a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear program. Earlier in the week, Israel's chief of staff, General Moshe Ya'alon, told an Israeli newspaper that "Iran is striving for nuclear capability and I suggest that in this matter [Israel] not rely on others."

On September 6, 2004, the latest IAEA report finds that "unresolved issues surrounding Iran's atomic programme are being clarified or resolved outright". [23] (

On September 18, 2004, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations's nuclear watchdog agency, unanimously adopts a resolution calling on Iran to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment.

On September 21, 2004, in defiance of the United Nations, Iran announces that it will continue its nuclear program converting 37 tonnes of yellowcake uranium for processing in centrifuges. (Reuters) (

On October 18, 2004, Iran states that it is willing to negotiate with the U.K., Germany, and France regarding a suspension of its uranium enrichment activities, but that it will never renounce its right to enrich uranium. (Reuters) (

On October 24, 2004, the European Union makes a proposal to provide civilian nuclear technology to Iran in exchange for Iran terminating its uranium enrichment program permanently. Iran rejects this outright saying it will not renounce its right to enrichment technologies. A decision to refer the matter from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the United Nations Security Council is expected on November 25, 2004. (Reuters) (

On November 15, 2004, talks between Iran and three European Union members, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, result in a compromise. Iran agrees to temporarily suspend its active uranium enrichment program for the duration of a second round of talks, during which attempts will be made at arriving at a permanent, mutually-beneficial solution.

On November 15, 2004, a confidential UN report is leaked. The report states that all nuclear materials within Iran have been accounted for and there is no evidence of any military nuclear program. Nevertheless, it still cannot discount the possibility of such a program because it does not have perfect knowledge. (BBC) (

On November 22, 2004, Iran declares that it will voluntarily suspend its uranium enrichment program to enter negotiations with the EU. Iran will review its decision in three months. The EU seeks to have the suspension made permanent and is willing to provide economic and political incentives. (Reuters) (

On November 24, 2004, Iran seeks to obtain permission from the European Union, in accordance with its recent agreement with the EU, to allow it to continue working with 24 centrifuges for research purposes. (Reuters) (

On November 28, 2004, Iran withdraws its demand that some of its technology be exempted from a freeze on nuclear enrichment activities. (BBC) (

See also

External links


[1]: Past Arguments Don't Square With Current Iran Policy, by Dafna Linzer. Washington Post Staff Writer. Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page A15. Link (


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