Importing N-fuel by Iran more advantageous than producing

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec.23

By Dalga Khatinoglu - Trend:

For the fist time several Iranian scholars and experts were allowed to criticize the country's nuclear program openly in a roundtable in Tehran University.

Ahmad Shirzad, Sadeq Zibakalam and Davood Hermidas Bavand during an open debate for students criticized the way Iranian former government was run by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in nuclear sphere, saying that continuance of the nuclear program is so costly for Iran.

"The damage done by the nuclear program on Iran was greater than that by the 1980-88 war with Iraq," Zibakalam said. In turn, Shirzad said that the cost of producing nuclear fuel is ten times more than the same fuel in international markets.

The roundtable was held on Dec.18, but Iranian hardliners have been condemning the idea in Tehran University.

George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose research focuses on nuclear strategy and nonproliferation, with a concentration on South Asia, Iran told Trend Dec.23 that there is no expert on nuclear industry who would say that Iran's efforts to produce nuclear fuel make economic sense.

"All countries with peaceful nuclear energy programs of a scale like Iran's have found it much more economical to buy or lease nuclear fuel," he said. It is true, Iranian officials say, that the U.S. and other countries tried to block Iran's access to nuclear fuel, but Iran solved this problem years ago when Russia agreed to provide fuel."

Iran possesses only one 1,000-MW nuclear power plant, which began to operate in 2011. Under the contract, Russia undertook to provide the plant with fuel throughout 10 years.

Russia delivered 112 metric tons of 3.5-percent enriched nuclear fuel to the Iranian side in two batches. This volume is enough for the plant's operation until 2021.

On the other hand, Iran signed a contract with Russia to build four new nuclear reactors.

The two of them will be built at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. By 2022, then Iran will have three nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts in Bushehr. Russia also takes over providing these reactors with nuclear fuel for ten years.

"In a centrally managed political system in Iran, where the free speech is often punished severely, this widening of debate is a good sign," said Perkovich, who is an adviser to the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations' task force on U.S. nuclear policy, attending the roundtable held in Tehran University. "It is a good sign for the Iranian people: why shouldn't they be given information to decide whether a nuclear deal is in their interest or not?"

It is projected that some $181 million would be spent on developing nuclear projects in the next fiscal year, which will start on March 20, 2015, including producing 35 metric tons of 5 percent-enriched uranium oxide, according to Iranian government's budget bill submitted to the parliament.

"The production of 34 metric tons of up to 5 percent-enriched uranium does not sound reasonable because Iran's capability is far from the required capacity, even if we do not take into account the restrictions agreed in Geneva between Iran and P5+1," the former consultant at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Behrooz Bayat told Trend.

Iran and P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council comprising of China, France, Russia, UK, the US plus Germany) are negotiating to reach a comprehensive long-term nuclear deal by July 1, 2015.

Iran agreed to keep the number of active centrifuges unchanged in accordance with the interim nuclear accord achieved in November 2013 and extended to July 1, 2015.

Currently, Iran possesses 19,000 IR1 and 1,000 IR2 centrifuges and about half of them are active. Uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas has been pumped into these centrifuges for enrichment.

IR1 centrifuge capacity for uranium enrichment is 0.8-1.2 SWU, IR2 - 4-5 SWU. There are also more powerful centrifuges, for example, IR8 with the capacity of 24 SWU, but Iran hasn't activated the powerful centrifuges yet.

The latest reports published by the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates that Iran hasn't fulfilled all of its obligations, including the lack of Iran's cooperation in providing allowance to IAEA to inspect Parchin military base, where Iran is suspected of having conducted high-explosive tests related to the nuclear bomb.

"It is clear that Iran will not provide the transparency requested by the IAEA and the P5+1 before a comprehensive deal would be negotiated," Perkovich said. "Full transparency, including information from key scientists, would give the international community much more confidence that it understands the dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program and will be able to assess if and when Iran would seek to break an agreement and move closer to acquiring nuclear weapons".

"In the absence of such transparency, the international community will need to maintain other forms of leverage to deter Iran from cheating. For example, the most important sanctions could remain in place for a number of years to allow the international community to gain confidence that Iran will not build nuclear weapons," he said.

"If Iran had provided fuller transparency about its past, the international community could have more confidence to relieve sanctions earlier. Another example: if Iran will not provide plausible answers regarding past activities, then it should have to agree to more intrusive inspections of its future activities."

"In other words, If Iran would provide greater transparency about the past, the international community could be somewhat less demanding about terms of a deal to manage Iran's nuclear program in the future," he said.

Perkovich added that If Iran will not provide such transparency, then it is reasonable for the international community to be more wary in setting terms of a deal.

Dalga Khatinoglu is an expert on Iran's energy sector, head of Trend Agency's Irannews service
Follow him on @dalgakhatinoglu

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