In a recent TV interview, Ali-Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, discussed his country's nuclear program. When asked by the interviewer how long it would take Iran, technically speaking, to get "back on track" if the U.S. violates the terms of the Geneva deal, Saleh responded: "A few hours." "Will we do that?" the interviewer asked, and Salehi answered: "If we need to produce 20% - yes, we will do it."
Following are excerpts from the interview, which aired on Press TV (via the Internet) on February 4, 2014.
Interviewer: The United States says that it has managed to dismantle at least parts of Iran's nuclear program. What do you say to that?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: Well, you can come and see whether our nuclear sites, nuclear equipment, and nuclear facilities are dismantled or not. The only thing that we have stopped and suspended – and that was voluntarily – is the production of 20% enriched uranium. That's it.
Of course, there is another thing that we have undertaken. We have committed ourselves not to install main equipment – and it has been defined what that main equipment is – in the Arak 40 megawatt heavy water reactor.
The nuclear facilities are functioning, and our enrichment is proceeding. It is doing its work, it is producing the 5% enriched uranium, and those centrifuges that stopped producing the 20% will be producing 5% enriched uranium.
In other words, our production of 5% will increase, and the entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.
The best part of this Joint Action Plan is the research part. It is so clear that R&D has no constraint.
Interviewer: Are you planning to build new nuclear power stations in Iran? We know that the Bushehr one is not enough, perhaps, for generations...
Ali-Akbar Salehi: We have the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is about 1,000 megawatts. [Iran] is the only country in West Asia that has a nuclear power plant.
We have a protocol that was signed between Iran and Russia in 1992, at the time of President Rafsanjani. The Russians, according to this protocol, has committed themselves, upon request of Iran, to construct another 4,000 megawatts of nuclear power plants in Iran.
We are trying to bring this protocol to implementation. We are negotiating with the Russians over this next 4,000 megawatts. We have not exhausted the negotiations. We are still negotiating the terms.
We hope that we will be able to start work on the next power plant next year.
Interviewer: What about the regional countries? If, for instance, tomorrow, the UAE, the Saudis, or other regional countries – the Persian Gulf states... If they ask you: "Mr. Salehi, do you think you could help us with building our own power plant?" – would you help them?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: We are 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, is to be good advisors, in many aspects.
Interviewer: So you're ready to help them?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: Yes.
We have always been at the negotiating table. It's the other side who appeared at some times, and disappeared at other times. We have never declined negotiating with the 5+1.
We have always shown our good intentions, but we hope that this time, they really come with good intentions and good faith. If they really come in good faith and with good intentions, this is an opportunity that they can utilize. Otherwise, Iran will pursue its natural course.
Interviewer: 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?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: A few hours.
Interviewer: Will we do that?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: Well, if we need to produce 20% - yes, we will do it.
Interviewer: 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?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: We have many types of reactors. This reactor is a heavy [water] reactor, but we have not designed this reactor for the intention of the production of plutonium. This is one thing.
Second, yes, this reactor – or such types of reactors, heavy water reactors, can be used for the production of plutonium. You also have production of plutonium in light water reactors. Why don't they speak about plutonium in light water reactors? We are producing plutonium in Bushehr.
But the technical answer is that not all plutonium is good plutonium for weapons. You have a jargon – "weapons-grade plutonium." Weapons-grade plutonium is not produced by this reactor. This reactor will produce about nine kilograms of plutonium, but not weapons-grade plutonium. I want to underline this. Not weapons-grade plutonium.
Interviewer: If Iran stops producing plutonium – will that damage its nuclear program?
Ali-Akbar Salehi: No. As I told you, this reactor is a research reactor. It is not for the production of plutonium. If you want to use the plutonium of 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.
It takes 6, 7, or 8 years before we are able – if we intend to do so – to use the plutonium, to extract the plutonium. 7 to 8 years. Plus, you need a reprocessing plant, which we don't have and we don't intend to construct.