Tehran – Tehran and Beijing are in talks to have China build several small nuclear power plants in Iran, an Iranian lawmaker said Sunday, amid concerns the Islamic Republic is seeking to build nuclear-powered submarines.
“Some negotiations have been held on mutual cooperation and building small nuclear power plants in Iran by China,” the Fars news agency quoted lawmaker Mojtaba Zonnou as saying. Zonnour is the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee. “The Chinese welcomed the proposal and it was decided that the issue be pursued at other (higher) levels,” Zonnour added.
According to Fars, the small nuclear reactors have uses in different industries, including shipbuilding and construction of submarines. The announcement comes as US President Donald Trump has threatened not to renew the nuclear deal with Iran. According to the deal, Iran agreed to dramatically scale back its nuclear program, making it much more difficult for it to develop nuclear weapons.
Trump laid out four conditions that must be met for him to not abrogate the deal, including increased inspections, ensuring that “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon” and that there is no expiration date to the nuke deal. The current one expires after a decade.
In January, Trump threatened that if these changes were not made by May 12, the next deadline to waive sanctions under the deal, he would exit the accord. In February the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report that Iran was still sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, but noted Tehran is looking to develop seaborne nuclear capabilities.
The IAEA report said that Iran informed it in January by letter of a decision to “construct naval nuclear propulsion in future.” The IAEA has asked Tehran for further details. Press reports in the past have said that Tehran wants to develop nuclear-powered ships and/or submarines.
This has created concern in the past because of the possibility that Iran might use highly enriched uranium, forbidden under the nuclear deal, to power such vessels. In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the country’s scientists to start work on nuclear-powered ships in response to the renewal of certain non-nuclear sanctions by the United States.
In letters read out on state television, Rouhani criticized the congressional move and told Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to start work on “planning the design and production of nuclear fuel and reactors for maritime transport.” Uranium, when enriched to high levels of purity, can be used in a nuclear weapon. At low levels, it can be used for peaceful applications such as power generation — Iran’s stated aim.
Iran is currently contructing two nuclear plants in the country, as part of a deal with Russia announced two years ago called Bushehr Phase II. The two additional plants are being built in the port city of Bushehr in southern Iran in additional to the one that is already operational. The Russian-built plant was completed in 2011.