Wed Feb 5, 2014 10:50AM
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi at the IAEA
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi at the IAEA

Press TV has conducted an interview with Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran about the West’s latest so-called concerns over the heavy water reactor at Arak.

The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.

Press TV: Let’s go to the question of the Arak heavy water reactor. A lot of people are questioning why. Why does Iran need plutonium in the first place?

Salehi: You see, we have many types of reactors. It is not only light-water reactor, we have heavy-water reactors, we have gas-cooled reactors. We have many types of reactors as we have many types of cars for example. You can have cars working on batteries, on diesel or on gas or whatever. Each one of them has its own engine, so is the case with reactors. You have different types of reactors.

The heavy-water reactor of Arak is not for the production of plutonium. This is the wrong way to define this reactor. This reactor is a research reactor. It is for the purpose of producing radio-isotopes and making other tests: fuel tests, material tests. So many other tests that you can use this reactor and make those tests; use the neutrons and make many different tests with the neutrons emanated from the core of this reactor.

So, this reactor, it is a heavy reactor, but we have not designed this reactor for the intention of the production of plutonium. This is point one.

Secondly, yes this reactor can be used – or such type of reactors, heavy water reactors – can be used for the production of plutonium.

You also have production of plutonium in light-water reactors. But you see, why don’t they speak about production of plutonium in light-water reactors? In Bushehr, we are producing plutonium in Bushehr. The technical answer is that not all plutonium is good plutonium for weapons. You have, in jargon, ‘weapons-grade plutonium’.

Weapons-grade plutonium is not produced by this reactor. This reactor will produce about 9 kilograms of plutonium, but not weapons-grade plutonium. I want to underline this, not weapons-grade plutonium.

Press TV: If Iran stops producing plutonium will that damage its nuclear program?

Salehi: As I told you this reactor is a research reactor, it’s not for the production of plutonium because if you want to use the plutonium from this reactor you need a reprocessing plant.

We do not have a reprocessing plant. We do not intend – although this is our right and we will not forego our right – but we do not intend to build a reprocessing plant.

So, unless you have a reprocessing plant you can never, never get that plutonium out of the fuel.

Suppose it takes two years before this reactor is completed, it needs another one year for many tests before the rector comes to full operation – that means about three years. Then you will have another one year, the fuel will be in the reactor - so that will be four years.

Once you take out the fuel from the core you will have to... you cannot touch the fuel because it is hot, highly radioactive and very hot, so you will have to keep it in a pool for some years.

It takes six, seven, eight years before we are able – if we intend to use the plutonium – to extract the plutonium. Seven to eight years and plus you need a reprocessing plant, which we don’t have and we don’t intend to construct.       

Press TV: The IAEA knows this doesn’t it?

Salehi: Yes of course. It was myself in 2003 when we presented our report to the IAEA about our peaceful activities we indicated then that Iran is not intending to construct a reprocessing plant.

But of course we do not forego our right for that. This is our right according to the NPT; according to the Statute of the IAEA, but we do not intend to do that because we have no use for that. We don’t want to make MOX (Mixed oxide fuel) fuel, we don’t want to extract the plutonium and the plutonium is a not a weapons-grade plutonium in the first place and we don’t want to extract it even for MOX. So that’s it.  

Press TV: This research reactor you’re talking about, the one in Arak the heavy-water reactor, people are asking if you don’t really need it if it’s not helping with Iran’s nuclear program, why do you need it?

Why do you want this thing, why do you want this whole international, Western dispute over this particular issue?

Salehi: First of all it is a scientific achievement, it is a technological achievement. This is first.

Secondly, it is a research reactor. In other words it is used to do research in areas of science and technology. You can test different materials in this reactor; you can produce radio isotopes for cancer patients; you can test fuels – the future fuels that we would like to use – in Bushehr we can test them there.

We can do scientific research with it or example the measuring of cross section using those neutrons – cross sections for various reactions with different materials.

There is such a wide usage of this reactor that we see no point stopping the work on this reactor.

Yes they say they can give us a light-water reactor in place of a heavy water reactor, but again with a light water reactor you can again produce plutonium, OK to a lesser extent I agree.

Here we can do some design change in other words make some change in the design in order to produce less plutonium in this reactor and in this way allay the worries and mitigate the concerns.

Press TV: Do you think they have genuine concerns when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program? Because you are saying that plutonium is for medical purposes; the enriched uranium is for power plants; and you say that the IAEA knows this – for some weird reason it is not telling the world what the realities on the ground are. 

Salehi: Their concerns from my experience is not genuine.

They are only using this as an excuse to put pressure on Iran, a political pressure.

I give an example: When this whole fabricated fire started in 2002, late 2002 and then we proceeded into 2003, there was an allegation that Iran has enriched uranium to more than 50 percent.

And we insisted that we have not done that and we didn’t have even centrifuges then except one or two imported centrifuges that we were testing. We insisted that this is an imported contamination and they said no.

For three years both sides insisted on their position and finally they succumbed to the fact that yes this is an imported contamination from another country. We have many examples of this sort.  

Press TV: The laptop story

Salehi: The laptop story we have many, many examples of this sort.

So this shows that their concern is not really a viable concern. It’s fabricated concern just to put pressure.

You know... when scientists sit together, experts sit together they know what they’re speaking about, they know what they’re talking about. It is only when it is politicized that we run into all these problems.

This reactor is a reactor for research. The question could be, why did you start both on enrichment and on heavy water? This could be a question, a valid question.   

The answer is... after the war (Iran, Iraq war 1980-1988) we wanted to start the nuclear activities of Iran, which had started by the way in the Shah’s regime upon the recommendations of the Americans SRI, the Stanford Research Institute.

They had compiled about 50 volumes of future studies about economic and social development in Iran. And they had recommended that it would be in the interests of Iran to construct up to 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants and that was their recommendation.

How come at that time they insisted on this recommendation and now they are talking differently?

Press TV: Let’s go back to November 24th, 2013 when Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany reached the so-called Geneva deal. As a nuclear scientist and MIT Graduate and more importantly as Iran’s nuclear chief, what was your first reaction? 

Saleh: I was happy that both sides reached, I mean, took the first step in a one thousand mile journey.

You can read Part 1 here.