Tehran ready to roll back anti-proliferation redesign of Arak reactor as Iran hawks in Congress push to punish those helping

The redesign of Iran’s heavy water reactor in Arak which makes it unusable for developing a nuclear weapon may be reversed, an Iranian atomic official said as US lawmakers seek to undermine the international work with sanctions.

The Arak reactor was partially destroyed as part of the 2015 nuclear deal and is in the process of refurbishment that involves Chinese, Russian and British contractors. The change is meant to greatly reduce the amount of plutonium in the spent fuel from the reactor, which can potentially be harvested and used to produce a nuclear device.

According to Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), the work may be stopped and the original design of the reactor restored, “if steps are not taken quickly from the opposite side, which is engaged in the modernization of the reactor.”

The warning came on Saturday as Kamalvandi was giving an update on Iran’s plans to roll back its commitments on the nuclear deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has been gradually withdrawing from the landmark agreement in response to the unilateral withdrawal by the US, which happened last year. Tehran says other participants have not been doing enough to mitigate the damage done to Iran by Washington’s move.

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Fordow Uranium Conversion Facility © AFP / HO / Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
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The Trump administration is pursuing the so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran with a stated goal of striking a better agreement than the one negotiated under Barack Obama. But despite this, the White House has been reluctant to torpedo some parts of the JCPOA. Last week it issued waivers that allow foreign firms to contribute to Iranian civilian nuclear industry without risk of US reprisal. That includes the anti-proliferation modification of the Arak reactor.

This stirred some anger among Iran hawks on Capitol Hill. Liz Cheney, the Republican representative from Wyoming, told the Washington Free Beacon that she will soon introduce legislation banning such waivers in the future.

“These ‘civil nuclear’ waivers legitimize Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure and help sustain President Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal,” she said. “Congress is determined to support President Donald Trump’s rightful exit from that deal and his successful maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.”

A similar effort in the Senate is being led by Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, who condemned the issuance as “another lost opportunity to tear up the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal once and for all.”

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Arak heavy water production facility in Iran. © Reuters
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A threat to reverse the design of the Arak reactor was voiced by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in July. Ali Akbar Salehi, the AEOI chief, said in January that Iran already has the spare parts necessary to replace the part of the reactor core that Iran destroyed in 2016 to deliver on its commitments under the nuclear deal.

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