Nuclear Energy in Iran

A historical look at the nuclear industry in Iran is presented below. The article, originally published in 2009/2010 gives an insight in to the situation of the industry as it was then.

Iran has a plentiful resource of energy and in 2008 exported 95% of output. 81% of electricity comes from gas, 17% from oil and 2% from other energy sources in the same year.

As with North Korea, nuclear power development in Iran has been fraught with political factors. The government claims that it needs nuclear power to supplement its fossil fuel resources but with the extent of Iranian exports of oil and gas it is difficult to credit the truth of this.

In the mid 1970s construction of two 1,200 MW PWR units was started at Bushehr but they were bombed and damaged by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war and have not been completed.

The Iranian nuclear programme has been linked with the capability to produce nuclear weapons and faces strong opposition from other Gulf States and Israel. The Iranian President has intemperately called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth and Israel has threatened a pre-emptive military strike against Iran. In 1981 Israel bombed a nuclear plant near Bagdad in Iraq and in June 2008 carried out a full-scale dress rehearsal of an air strike against Iranian facilities.

Iran revived the nuclear power programme in 1991 with a bilateral agreement with China for the supply of two 300 MW PWR units but nothing happened. In 1994, Russia’s Minatom and the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) agreed to complete unit 1 at Bushehr with a VVER-1,000 unit. Completion has repeatedly been announced and delayed and the current status is unclear.

Iran has announced that a new indigenous 360 MW nuclear power plant is to be built in Khuzistan province, where two Framatome 900 MW plants were about to be constructed in 1970s. It has also said that bids for two further 1,000 MW units would be invited.

Iran’s efforts are focused both on uranium enrichment and a parallel plutonium effort but the enrichment programme has been plagued with problems.