By Faramarz Davar
Jun 11, 2021
Iranians became aware of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program at the same time as the existence of the Natanz facility went public; from time to time, the name of a new nuclear facility in Iran then becomes known, and while it may be familiar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it is wholly new to the Iranian public.
The Sanjarian nuclear facility is the latest such facility. The American news network Fox News, using satellite images, reported that the Islamic Republic in the fall of 2020 added new structures to the facility.
Sanjarian is located in a village of the same name, 20 kilometres northeast of Tehran, in the Jajrud area. Sanjarian is near the Parchin Center which was under investigation by the IAEA for years due to the discovery of enriched uranium particles.
The Islamic Republic razed the Parchin facility to the ground with the aim of destroying all signs of uranium, but inspectors learned about the material through sampling the local environment. The Sanjarian site, meanwhile, which is also referred to in Iran’s nuclear documents as the Nurabad center, is 15 kilometres from Parchin.
Information about the center was reviewed by the International Science and Security Research Institute, based on a 55,000-page nuclear document stolen by Israel, along with 55,000 digital files in 183 CD format.
Sanjarian is a key testing and production center for “shock wave generators” that play a role in producing small nuclear weapons. According to the International Science and Security Research Institute, Sanjarian is designed to build Iran’s capacity for developing ignition devices for nuclear weapons.
The center has two explosion chambers that were used for testing. Russian cameras were installed in one of these chambers to record and monitor explosions.
The Sanjarian Center was part of the Amad project, which operated under the supervision of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program, who was assassinated near Tehran in 2020.
Fakhrizadeh’s main work, according to the stolen nuclear documents and the November 2011 report of Yukiya Amano, then Director-General of the IAEA, was research on green salt, high-powered explosives and warhead design for the Shahab 3 missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
The IAEA Director-General, in his reports to the Board of Governors, including the 35 member governments of the IAEA, described these areas of work as part of a Iranian nuclear program; together these matters were known known as the PMD case. The case was resolved as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 and European powers led by the United States.
The IAEA said in its reports that Iran had ceased its activities at the Sanjarian facility in the early 2000s – and it was not under IAEA supervision until the recent developments. According to newly released satellite images, Iran has carried out excavations at the center and built a new road to the facility.
Reports of changes and developments at the facility coincide with unprecedented criticism of Iran by the current IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi. He said Iran had not given a convincing answer to inspectors’ questions about the uranium particles found in three centers, the isotopic activity at an undeclared facility, and the storage of some missing natural uranium.
At least one of the four centers about which the Director-General has expressed concerns regarding uranium particles and fissile materials was located near Tehran. But no direct reference has been made to the Sanjarian facility.
In the last six months, Iran’s nuclear program has entered an unprecedented phase; not only has Iran started 20 percent uranium enrichment without the implementation of the Additional Protocol provided by the JCPOA agreement, and extensive IAEA inspections, but for the first time, Iran is enriching uranium at 60 percent purity. The IAEA Director-General has said this degree of enrichment is only carried out by countries building nuclear weapons.
The Islamic Republic says it has undertaken the higher enrichment in response to sabotage at the Natanz nuclear facility and to be used in developing radiopharmaceuticals products.
Following the publication of reports on the Sanjarian facility, the International Atomic Energy Agency is likely to request updated information from the Islamic Republic, and the IAEA Board of Governors will ask the Director-General about the nature of the facility. The resurgence of the IAEA dispute with Iran means that yet another nuclear facility has been introduced to Iranians to join Natanz and Fordow.