The head of an Iranian nuclear organization, Ali Akbar, says the "entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on," despite the nuclear deal reached with the United States and other Western nations. Akbar made the comments in an interview with PressTV, an Iranian propaganda outfit.
Akbar also says they won't dismantle Arak reactor, that the American have achieved nothing, and that they're continuing to build new nuclear sites.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran about the disputed issues surrounding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.
Press TV: The United States says that it has managed to dismantle at least parts of Iran’s nuclear program. What do you say to that?
Salehi: At the outset allow me to thank you and it’s my pleasure talking to you.
If you look at the word ‘dismantle’ and you look at it in the dictionary, dismantle means to take apart and try to put it into pieces, equipment. Well, you can come and see whether our nuclear sites, nuclear equipment and nuclear facilities are dismantled or not.
The only thing we have stopped and suspended – and that is voluntarily – is the production of 20 percent enriched uranium and that’s it.
Of course, there is another thing that we have undertaken; we have committed ourselves not to install main equipment, which have been defined as to what those main equipments are in the Arak 40 megawatt heavy water reactor.
The nuclear facilities are functioning; our enrichment is proceeding, it’s doing its work, it’s producing the 5 percent enriched uranium and those centrifuges that stopped producing the 20 percent will be producing 5 percent enriched uranium. In other words our production of 5 percent [uranium] will increase. The entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.
Centrifuges that were used for the production of 20 percent, they will be used now for producing 5 percent enriched uranium.
Press TV: Will that create another stumbling block in the way of negotiations?
Salehi: No. This has been agreed already.
Press TV: This has been agreed?
Salehi: Yes, that those centrifuges that stopped producing the 20 percent will be producing 5 percent.
Press TV: What about research and the new-generation centrifuges that Iran has developed – what’s going to happen to them?
Salehi: That’s a good question. In fact, the best part of this joint action plan is the research part. It’s so clear that R&D has no constraint. We are working on our advanced centrifuges. We have a number of advanced centrifuges, which are under the IAEA supervision where they are being tested and uranium gas has been injected into it – of course, not for accumulation, it’s just for testing those centrifuges.
Once you develop a centrifuge you test it first. Once you test the first centrifuge you will have two centrifuges; test them together and then you will have 10, 20; then you can go up to 50 and then 164.
And those centrifuges will have to be working together in a cascade for a while – for probably two years to make sure that those centrifuges that have been developed are performing well enough to then be able to produce them in mass production.
Press TV: Let’s go back to the question of dismantling the nuclear program as the United States is talking about.
Iran has 19,000 centrifuges as far as we have learned – it’s in the news. The Americans are saying that they have managed to put a break or put an end to the operation of half of the centrifuges that Iran has and has had in operation.
These 19,000 centrifuges, my question is, were they operational before the joint action plan – all of them; and now the US has managed to stop half of them?
Salehi: You see, we have two sites for enrichment, one is at Natanz and the other one is at Fordo.
Out of the 18,000 centrifuges that we have roughly, 9,000 of them are working, are functioning; and the other 9,000 we have voluntarily accepted not to inject gas into them.
Press TV: You were not injecting gas before the joint action plan so the situation has not changed?
Salehi: Yes. That was a political decision that was made in the previous government and that decision is still upheld.
Press TV: So technically speaking the Americans have not achieved anything in terms of stopping the injection of gas into those centrifuges?
Salehi: No, except we can say that we have agreed to extend this moratorium on not injecting gas into the centrifuges for another six months.
Press TV: What about new nuclear plants. Are you planning to build new nuclear power stations in Iran? We know there is one in Bushehr – one is not enough perhaps.
Salehi: Yes. We have one, which is the Bushehr power plant, which is about a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant. [So, Iran]... is the only country in West Asia that has a nuclear power plant.
We have a protocol signed between Iran and Russia in 1992 at the time of President Rafsanjani that the Russians according to this protocol had committed themselves upon request from Iran to construct another 4,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants in Iran.
We are trying to bring into implementation this protocol. We are talking to and negotiating with the Russians over this next 4,000 megawatts [powerplant]. Still we have not exhausted the negotiation – we are still negotiating the terms. We hope. We hope that with the next power plant... we will be able to start the work on the next power plant next year. And of course it will take 7-8 years... with the Russians; it will take about 7- 8 years before we can complete this plant.
Press TV: Do you consider other partners? It’s just Russia?
Salehi: Now we are talking with the Russians very seriously, but we have recently received some proposals from other countries.
Press TV: Can I ask from which countries?
Salehi: No because unless it is finalized I wouldn’t like to mention it.
Press TV: What about the regional countries, if for instance the United Arab Emirates or the Saudis, other regional countries or Persian Gulf States – if they ask you Mr. Salehi do you think you can help us with building our own power plant, would you help them?
Salehi: We are indigenously working very hard on developing one indigenous power plant, about 360 megawatts. But that takes quite a while and that is our first experience.
But, what we can do if they ask us for assistance, we can be good advisors in many aspects.
Press TV: So, you are ready to help them?
Salehi: Yes we are ready to help them. Even in instalment of equipment we have very good experience.
Press TV: There are those in the West who are saying it was the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table and they are saying that maybe a year ago or two years ago Iran wasn’t ready to engage in serious talks and now Iran is engaged in serious talks.
What do you say to that?
Salehi: You see, we have always been at the negotiating table. It is the other side who appeared at some times and disappeared at other times. We have never declined negotiating – negotiating with the P5+1.
So, we are continuing along the same track, the same course we had started out long before. So we will keep on negotiating.
We are a nation that has produced civilization. We hope this time that... we have always shown our good intention, but we hope that this time they really come with good intention and good faith.
If they really come in good faith and good intention, this is an opportunity that they can utilize. Otherwise Iran will pursue its natural course, its daily business and yes I wouldn’t deny some problems that have been emanated from sanction, but this does not mean that these sanctions have been crippling for Iran.
Iran is a big country; it is self-sufficient in many respects. It can produce its own food; it can produce most of its needs indigenously, so we have a long breath to continue with this.
So it’s up to the other side to really make the best of this opportunity to come into terms with Iran – and they have tested us many times – and Iran has stood the test of time for three thousand years. In the past 35 years also they have tested us in many ways. I think enough is enough. An advice to them is to really use this opportunity and to come into terms with Iran.
Iran has been the only country until now - among Muslim countries, that has been able to put satellites into orbit three times consecutively with success.
And for your information South Korea started after us and they failed twice. We are the first country and probably until now the only country – that I’m not very sure – but I am certain we are the first country that started animal cloning. And we have started to produce medicine from the milk of these animals.
Which other country out of the Muslim countries and developing countries have had these achievements? Of course, taking into account all of these constraints this is an incredible achievement that the Iranian nation has acquired.
So this nation as I told you it has stood the test of time for three thousand years. We have seen a lot of ups and downs, but we are among very, very few nations of the world that have endured all these ups and downs and have stayed as a nation as yet.
Press TV: If President Barack Obama is defeated by pro-Israeli lobbies in the Congress – the likes of Bob Menendez and Mark Kirk – and the United States decides to violate the terms of the Geneva deal, how long will it take, technically speaking, for Iran to get back on track?
Salehi: A few hours.
Press TV: A few hours. Will we do that?
Salehi: Well, if we need to produce 20 percent yes we will do it.
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.