Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) Vice President Mohammad Eslami announced on Monday that construction has begun on a fourth nuclear reactor in the city of Isfahan.
According to Eslami, the “process of pouring concrete for the foundation of the reactor” is now underway. His office told Iranian state media that, when completed, the ten-megawatt reactor will test fuel, produce industrial radioisotopes, and process pharmaceuticals.
Isfahan currently has three research reactors. Iran has one operational nuclear power plant, a 3,000-megawatt facility in Bushehr. A second reactor using Russian designs has been under construction at Bushehr since late 2019, and a third is planned after that.
Last Thursday, Eslami announced that an entirely new nuclear power complex is planned in the city of Sirik, and it will be more powerful than the existing reactor at Bushehr, with a capacity of about 5,000 megawatts.
“We must reach the production capacity of 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power in the country by the year 2041,” Eslami said, suggesting that at least one more reactor will be planned after Sirik and the Bushehr expansion.
Iran International, a dissident media organization, was highly skeptical of Eslami’s claims on Sunday, pointing out that the price tag for the Sirik reactor would be at least $20 billion — a difficult bill for Iran to pay given international sanctions against its nuclear missile program.
“The difficulties Iran has faced in building new power plants in the last ten years raise doubts about whether the 25,000 megawatts of new electricity that the previous national development plan sought to bring about can be achieved,” Iran International said, noting that Iran claimed it would generate five percent of its power with nuclear and other non-fossil-fuel methods by 2021 but actually managed only one percent.
Iran has always insisted its enthusiasm for enriching uranium is purely for civilian purposes, such as generating electricity and creating medical products. In reality, Iran is spending a fortune on amassing a huge stockpile of uranium enriched far beyond any conceivable civilian need, but just below the level needed for atomic weapons.
As Iran International pointed out, this leaves Iran in the seemingly senseless position of spending heavily on uranium but not generating enough electricity with nuclear power to meet its energy security goals.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in November that Iran now has enough 60 percent enriched uranium to build three nuclear bombs if it took the relatively quick and straightforward step of refining it to 90 percent.
An even more alarming assessment published by the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security on Monday said Iran has already refined enough uranium to weapons-grade to produce one bomb within a week and six bombs within a month.
The Institute combined this level of uranium enrichment with Iran’s hostile international posture and lack of transparency to conclude that an “extreme danger” of Tehran producing a nuclear weapon now exists.