Iran begins construction of four new nuclear power plants in south

Project will take nine years to complete and have expected total capacity of 5,000 megawatts

The reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. AFP
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Iran has begun construction on four nuclear power plants in the country's south, with expected total capacity of 5,000 megawatts, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Thursday.

The plants are being built in the east coast port town of Sirik, about 1,150km (715 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, Irna said.

The project will cost around $20 billion and will create 4,000 jobs, Nasser Shariflou, the head of the project, told the agency. Each plant is expected to use 35 tons of nuclear fuel per year, Mr Shariflou said.

Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, said the plants will take up to nine years to complete, according to Irna.

The country has one active nuclear plant, a 1,000 megawatt power station that went online with help from Russia in 2011. Iran is also building a 300-megawatt plant in oil-rich Khuzestan province, near the western border with Iraq.

It aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear energy by 2041.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last year that Iran has increased the rate at which it is producing near-weapons grade uranium.

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in the report that Iran “in recent weeks had increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023,” according to an IAEA spokesperson.

Washington expressed deep concern over the reports at the time, saying they came at a time when Iran-backed proxies were continuing their "dangerous and destabilising activities in the region," a US spokesperson commented.

Iran’s atomic energy chief Mohammad Eslami dismissed the IAEA warnings last December.

“We did nothing new and are doing the same activities according to the rules,” he said.

Tehran had previously slowed the rate at which it was enriching uranium to 60% purity, which is just a short technical step away from the weapons-grade level of 90%.

The West has long suspected that Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons, something Iran denies.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is formally known, was signed between Iran, China, Russia, the US, France, Germany, the UK and the EU in 2015. It placed strict curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting some economic sanctions.

Under former president Donald Trump the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed its harshest sanctions, which are still in effect today.

Last September, the IAEA complained that Tehran had effectively barred several of its most experienced inspectors from monitoring the country’s nuclear programme.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 1:46 PM