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A look at Iran’s nuclear weapons projects

The first revelations of illicit Iranian nuclear activities made by the Iranian resistance, however, came in June 1991. A more thorough investigation reveals that nuclear weapons acquisition was on the regime’s agenda since the early years after the 1979 revolution and formed a pillar of Khomeini’s strategic and fundamentalist doctrine for regime survival and expansion.

All decisions on nuclear activities have always been made at the highest levels. The NCRI’s in-depth research has also established that the regime’s Revolutionary Guards have systematically played a strategic role in the multi-faceted campaign to obtain nuclear weapons.

Below is first part of an NCRI background report on the regime’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons in the three decades of its rule.


Mullahs’ Regime and Nuclear Bomb


After the Shah’s fall in 1979, the activities of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) were suspended during Mehdi Bazargan’s provisional government. The government assessment was that it did not need atomic energy due to Iran’s extensive oil and gas resources.

In 1981, the mullahs’ regime made a decision to chart a path to obtain nuclear weapons and the associated technology. Mohammad Hossein Beheshti (one of the closest clerical confidants of Khomeini) told the country’s nuclear research managers in 1981 that Iran’s policy is to obtain a nuclear weapon.

To advance its plan, the regime embarked on two sets of activities. On the one hand, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) added nuclear military research to its agenda and on the other hand the AEOI was re-activated in a dual-track approach.

1. In 1983, the IRGC founded the Unit for Special Nuclear Research in the IRGC’s central research complex. This special and clandestine center was located in the northern quarters of Tehran, near Vanak Square, and employed top nuclear experts from various universities.

2. In 1983, Parliament Speaker Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani summoned previously-suspended AEOI experts and invited them to resume their activities at the nuclear agency.

IRGC’s Serious Attempts at Gaining a Nuclear Bomb

In late 1986 and early 1987, the IRGC carried out a series of attacks against Iraq, code-named Karbala 4 and Karbala 5, with the goal of capturing Basra, but they were heavily defeated.

Following this defeat, during a speech in 1987, Khomeini addressed high ranking officials of the AEOI and the IRGC and emphasized the necessity of possessing a nuclear bomb.

After Khomeini’s speech, Mohsen Rezaii, the then Commander of the IRGC, made it his personal responsibility to pursue nuclear weapons development. Some of the activities that he carried out along this line were as follows:

1. The IRGC’s research center for acquiring the scientific expertise and technology for developing nuclear weapons established active communications with Russia and Pakistan and conducted negotiations and collaborations with both countries.

2. Since 1987, one of the IRGC’s nuclear research centers under the cover of “IRGC’s Educational Center for Marine Technical Cadres” was activated. This center was located near Lavizan section of Tehran and had active nuclear relations with Russia and Pakistan.

3. Relations with Abdul Qadeer Khan (Father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons): In 1987, three IRGC officials met Abdul Qadeer Khan in Tehran on at least two occasions. At the time, the main mission of the IRGC’s research center was research in the area of nuclear weapons. The meetings between IRGC commanders and Abdul Qadeer Khan were coordinated by Reza Amrollahi, the then head of AEOI .

4. Rezaii, IRGC head at the time, personally met with university physics professors in 1987 and invited them to collaborate in nuclear research with the IRGC. The recruited professors began work at the “IRGC’s Educational Center for Marine Technical Cadres” in Lavizan.


1. Ceasefire’s “Chalice of Poison” and the Necessity of Attaining Atomic Bomb

On July 16, 1988, two days before announcing the ceasefire in the war with Iraq, Khomeini wrote a letter explaining the necessity of the ceasefire. In that letter he emphasized that the military commanders had said: “If we had 350 brigades, 2,500 tanks, 3,000 artillery, 300 fighter planes, and 300 helicopters as well as the capability to build a significant amount of laser and nuclear weapons—which were needed for the war at the time—then, God willing, we can conduct offensive operations.”

2. Strategy of Preventive Defense

After Khomeini’s death, in 1989 the regime approved the strategy of preventive defense. The strategy was to deal with the threat that “the enemies of the Islamic republic and its Islamic ideology would, at some point, resort to military threat or attack, in order to prevent the spread of this country’s influence.” The strategy, which continues to this day, is based on the following three pillars:

• Capability to tolerate heavy losses in long-term battles;

• Having an enormous military arsenal containing mid-range and long-range missiles to remedy the weaknesses in air operations; and

• A nuclear arsenal to stop major powers including the United States.

The mullahs’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the regime’s military commanders believed that: “The central axis of containment in this strategy is possessing nuclear weapons that would prevent attacks, and Iran’s national defense without having nuclear power will not have much value.”

3. Mo’allem Kelayeh Project

Since 1989, the IRGC had a uranium enrichment project called “Alamoot Plan” that was carried out in Mo’allem Kelayeh.  This project was known as Mo’allem Kelayeh Project. It was carried out in Qazvin’s Alamoot region in the Khoshkchal area and, in order to keep it secret even from the local residents, the IRGC moved the local residents to other areas.

The PMOI exposed this enrichment project in June 1991, and in 1992, the IAEA asked the regime for an explanation.  The regime claimed there was no serious project being carried out at that location. It was not until 2003 that the site was visited by the IAEA which confirmed that uranium had been enriched there. Once the regime’s deception was revealed, in its letter of October 2003 it was forced to admit that from 1998 to 2003 it was enriching uranium at that site.

4. Rafsanjani’s Strategy for IRGC to Achieve Nuclear Bomb

In a report to Rafsanjani in 1991, the IRGC’s special nuclear unit described the difficulty in achieving nuclear weapons as lack of cooperation by foreign countries in making key facilities and techniques available for building nuclear weapons.

Subsequently, Rafsanjani had a joint meeting with the IRGC’s special nuclear unit and the AEOI. At that meeting the following strategy was formulated for attaining nuclear weapons:

1. To access the nuclear facilities and technology, we must activate various resources in various countries and engage in smuggling and secret deals to gain the needed technology;

2. Trusted Iranian engineers and experts should be sent abroad under various covers to spy and gain access to such technology; and

3. We must take maximum advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to bring into service special expertise and services .

5. Exposing the Regime’s Secret Nuclear Decisions and Activities

In June 1991, Mr. Mohammad Mohaddessin, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), at a press conference in the U.S. exposed Rafsanjani’s strategy and the regime’s specific activities at the time for accessing nuclear weapons, the regime’s allocated budget for this purpose, and the relations with other countries including with China and Pakistan. This press conference received widespread coverage and the regime’s officials and media were forced to react to it .

6. Attempt to Purchase Warheads from Kazakhstan

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the regime saw a rare opportunity and made serious attempts at buying nuclear warheads from ex-Soviet states. The most serious attempt was made in buying nuclear warheads from Kazakhistan.

In 1992 the PMOI learnt that the regime was about to purchase three nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan and it was determined that the purchase of these warheads was agreed upon during a visit to Iran in 1992 by Kazakhstan’s Transportation Minister Mr. Aishin Kari and it was agreed upon that Iran would pay for them in cash.

The Iranian Resistance exposed the purchase. On October 12 1992, the Washington Post wrote: “Iran has been conducting secret negotiations to buy nuclear warheads from the cash-hungry former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and by one account has closed the deal. … The Bush administration was warned last week by an exiled Iranian dissident leader whose information has proved accurate in the past. His Iraq-based organization, the People’s Mujaheddin, had learned that Iran has signed the agreement and paid for the warheads, but that delivery had not yet taken place.”

Despite the plan’s exposure, the regime continued to finalize the deal and in December 1992, Akbar Torkan, the regime’s Minister of Transportation, and Amrollahi, the head of the AEOI, travelled to Kazakhstan to conclude the agreement that was reached with Minister Kari a few months earlier and take delivery of the bombs. The Kazakh officials stated that following the agreement’s exposure by the PMOI, they had been facing international pressure, and in particular because of pressure by Russian President Boris Yeltsin they could not carry out the agreement.

A few years later, Mr. Bolat Nurgaliyev, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the U.S., confirmed the existence of that agreement. In that regard, the Washington Times on November 2, 1996 wrote: “The Kazakh ambassador to the United States says that Iran attempted to buy unidentified materials from a major Soviet nuclear facility in his country but that the deal was stopped in 1992 as crates sat awaiting shipment. … Mr. Nurgaliyev said that in 1992, as a newly independent Kazakhstan sought to deal with the tremendous nuclear arsenal on its soil, Iranian representatives made contact with the Ust-Kamenogorsk facility and sought certain ‘things.’”

The Washington Times further reported that an intelligence report had said “Iranian officials actually visited the plant seeking HEU [Highly Enriched Uranium] for the Islamic country’s own nuclear weapons program.”

Thus the Iranian opposition had by its timely revelation prevented the Iranian regime from obtaining three nuclear warheads.


[1] Les Gardiens de la Révolution, [Guardians of the Revolution], page 247

[2] Les Gardiens de la Révolution, [Guardians of the Revolution] , page 317 – Khomeini’s handwritten text

[3] Les Gardiens de la Révolution, [Guardians of the Revolution] , page 246

[4] Mullahs’ regime reaction to that exposé collected in Chronicles of Iran’s nuclear confrontation, Etemaad Daily N0. 192, September 26, 2006.  



Period of clandestine advancement of nuclear plans (1993 – 2003)

Following the first Persian Gulf War (Kuwait), international concerns regarding the Iranian regime’s enrichment activities and efforts to develop nuclear weapons heightened, which in turn led to limited inspections of regime’s sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on two occasions: February 1992 and December 1993.  This prompted the regime to decide on full secrecy in the nuclear arena.

Taking into account the unsuccessful attempt to purchase nuclear warheads frrom Kazakhstan in 1992, the regime concluded that the only way to access nuclear weapons was to obtain nuclear technology through smuggling and by hiring nuclear experts frrom the former Soviet bloc.

In this period, the mullahs’ regime followed, on one hand, large and clandestine plans for heavy water at the Arak site for producing plutonium, and the Natanz project for enriching uranium, in order for the AEOI to obtain the full nuclear fuel cycle.

On the other hand, it concentrated nuclear engineering projects for building nuclear weapons at the Ministry of Defense, which is completely controlled by the IRGC, so that with complete secrecy, it could keep the program out of view of any inspections by the IAEA within the NPT framework.

Ministry of Defense and AEOI – Two Wings of Obtaining Nuclear Weapons

As the two wings of nuclear activities for obtaining nuclear weapons, the Ministry of Defense and AEOI have advanced the regime’s nuclear efforts in parallel.

It is worth recalling that in order to enforce the IRGC’s hegemony over the regular forces,  after the war with Iraq in 1989, Khamenei agreed to the merger of the Ministry of IRGC with the Defense Ministry upon the recommendation of the then President Ali-AKbar Rafsanjani, and formed a single ministry called the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.  Most members of the new Ministry of Defense were frrom the IRGC and since its formation, the minister of defense, and most of the deputy ministerial positions, have always been selected frrom the IRGC in order that the ministry remains under its control.

Ministry of Defense and Nuclear Engineering

In 1993, the regime transferred all nuclear research centers of the IRGC and other military and academic centers to the Ministry of Defense.  After this transfer, the IRGC’s research center that was working in the field of nuclear engineering was renamed the center for “Defense Ministry’s Defense Research Training”.  This center carried out its nuclear military projects at the Lavizan Shian site.
The nuclear experts at the IRGC’s research center were transferred to the Lavizan Shian site and the Imam Hossein University. Imam Hossein University (the IRGC University) expanded nuclear research at its physics department and started training the revolutionary guards for nuclear activities.

The regime’s center for military nuclear activities at Lavizan Shian was exposed in May 2003 by the Iranian Resistance; this forced it to stop its activities at that location and get it transferred to a new location. In order to clean up the nuclear and military activities at that site, the regime was forced to remove the soil of that center, up to 20 meters deep. These changes delayed the nuclear engineering efforts of the regime for a period.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)

At the AEOI, obtaining enriched uranium and plutonium was placed high on the agenda, and research and testing by the organization started for producing enriched atomic fuel.

In order to produce enriched uranium, the Natanz site was constructed by the regime.

For producing plutonium, the regime has been considering building a 40 megawatt reactor since 1993.  After plans for purchasing this reactor frrom Russia failed, the regime began building the Arak site in the Khondab region of the city of Arak.

arakMajor Enrichment Plan in Natanz and Heavy Water in Arak

Arak Site: 40-Megawatt Heavy Water Reactor for producing Plutonium

After the Iran-Iraq war, the regime began seeking plutonium in order to build a bomb. It first tried to obtain it through China, Argentina and Russia. The planing of the project for establishing a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor was started in 1996 when it was first designed. and the AEOI started the construction in 1999  in the Khondab region of Arak as a top secret project.

This complex is comprised of two sections; the first section is to produce heavy water and the second section is the 40-megawatt reactor.


Arak’s Heavy Water

The work for installing the heavy water parts at this complex started in 2001 and it was ready for production in September 2006. The production capacity of this complex is 16 tons of deuterium water with 99.8% enrichment. The full production capacity of this complex is 80 tons per year with 99.8% enrichment.

Arak’s heavy water plant is made up of four main processing units and 9 lateral services units. This project is built in a 20 hectare area and has about 17,000 square meters under development.  Eleven internal consulting companies and 41 Iranian construction and installation companies were also involved in that project.

Address: Khondab – 5 kilometers off the Khondab Road towards ArakGhatran factory (alongside of Ghara-Chai River).

This project was copied frrom similar American plants, and its final design was done through consultation and approval by several Russian scientists.

To avoid leaks, the AEOI conducted the project under the cover of a company named “Mesbah Energy Company” which is a subsidiary of the AEOI.

Mesbah Energy’s office in Tehran is located at Vali-Asr Avenue, in front of Mellat Park, West Armaghan street, number 77.

Arak’s 40-Megawatt Reactor:

This site is located in a separate section but at the same complex where the heavy water factory is.  The Rahkar Sanaye Company, which is one of the AEOI’s companies, was responsible for installing the IRS40 heavy water reactor.  The AEOI’s Energy Novin Company carried out part of this project and putting the reactors into operation.

This reactor must be built with the goal of producing plutonium, because according to international experts, this reactor is too large for small scale electricity generation and is too large for scientific and laboratory work.

According to reports received frrom designers and builders of this project, this reactor will produce 8 to 10 kilograms of plutonium annually which is sufficient for two nuclear bombs.

Arak’s heavy water site and the IRS40 heavy water reactor were exposed by the Iranian Resistance in August 2002. The site was subsequently inspected by the IAEA which proved the veracity of the Resistance’s information.

natanz2Natanz Site

The Natanz site which is located 30 kilometers away frrom the city of Natanz is the regime’s most important uranium enrichment center.

In 1999, the regime started building this site under the guise of desert-reduction efforts. The project for building the Natanz site was entirely secret and the project’s budget was provided by the Supreme National Security Council and placed under the control of the Budget and Planning Organization. According to the February 2004 report of the regime’s parliament’s center for research, even the regime’s parliament was not informed of the heavy water project at Arak and Natanz2.

This project was entirely clandestine and its existence became public only when the Iranian Resistance exposed it in 2002.

The project for building this site was given to a number of trusted companies that were attached to the IRGC and each one of these companies was only aware of the information related to their part of the project, and unaware of the goals of the entire project.

This site has 11,000 hectares under construction with two 25,000 square meters halls for installation of centrifuges. At this site 50,000 centrifuges are to be installed.  Additionally, this site has a testing hall for installing 1,000 centrifuges.

These halls are built 10 meters below the ground level and are topped with reinforced concrete and soil to be protected frrom air attacks.

According to the November 2012 report of the IAEA, until November of 2012, 10,414 centrifuges were installed at that location and 7,611 kilograms of 5% enriched uranium were produced at that site.

The Kala Electric Company was responsible for putting the Natanz site into operation on behalf of the AEOI.

The AEOI and Defense Ministry experts are continually overseeing the progress at Natanz site.

This site’s equipment and facilities were built by using technology frrom China, India, and North Korea, and the site’s managers have had repeated trips to those countries.
In 2007, the regime started building secret tunnels several kilometers away frrom the site in order to make the site accessible frrom  underground.

Abali Site (Kala Electric Co.): Centrifuge Production and Test Center

The Kala Electric company, falsely registered as a clock factory, is one of main suppliers of the Natanz site and carries out the centrifuge deployment and testing there. The CEO of this company is Dr. Seyed Jaber Safdari of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization

One of the Kala Electric’s centers is at the Abali site in Tehran.

It postal address in Tehran is: Kala Electric Company, Abali Rd KM 2.5, Tehran.

The Abali site contains two large 450 square meter halls that are used as workshops and has a few administrative offices.
This site was exposed by the Iranian resistance in February 2003 and subsequently inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in August 2003. Traces of highly enriched uranium were found at the equipment used at the Kali Electric during IAEA inspection.

Before the IAEA inspectors arrival, the Iranian regime unsuccessfully attempted to clean up the place, and renovate and re-paint its top floor. But when examining a section that was not completely renovated, the IAEA inspectors were able to detect highly enriched uranium.