What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news "then" and "now".
In WISE Bulletin 4, we wrote about a strike by Iranian trainees at the German Kraftwerk Union (Siemens): "In December a group of Iranians being trained at KWU factories in the Federal Republic to staff future Iranian nuclear power plants went on strike. The Iranians (130 atomic engineers and 280 technicians on a three-year course) were expressing their opposition to the treaties under which Iran was to buy a total of 8 nuclear power plants from KWU. […] They said the treaties were corrupt, increasing the imperialist hold over Iran."
(WISE Bulletin 4, March 1979)
The strike occurred just before the regime of the Shah of Persia lost power in 1979. After the "Islamic revolution", the Shah's nuclear program was rejected as "satanic" and all projects temporarily suspended. After some years the new Ayatollahs' government restarted the nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program started in 1967 when the U.S. supplied a 5 MW research reactor for the Tehran University. In 1970, Iran ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty, opening the doors for the import of nuclear technology. The seemingly obvious question of why a country with vast reserves of oil and gas was keen to use nuclear power was apparently never asked.
The first contract for two Kraftwerk Union reactors (at Bushehr) was signed in 1974, followed by a contract with French Framatome in 1977 for two more reactors (at Karun). There were plans for more German reactors (between 4-6) and eight U.S. reactors. Both the French and German contracts were notorious for corruption; an estimated 20% of the contracts was spent on kickbacks and "commissions". (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 584, 7 March 2003)
In 1982, Iran planned to the restart of construction of the two incomplete Bushehr reactors. It began negotiations with Kraftwerk Union for the remaining equipment and some work commenced. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Bushehr reactors were bombed in November 1987 resulting in the deaths of ten Iranians and one German. By 1995, Iran had chosen Russia for the completion of Bushehr-1 and installed a VVER-1000 reactor in place of the wrecked Siemens reactor. Regardless of international protests (because of Iran's suspected weapons' program) the Russians continued work on it.
(The Nuclear Fix, WISE 1981; WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 584, 7 March 2003)
In February 2003, President Khatami announced that uranium mining was to commence near the city of Yazd and that a uranium enrichment facility, hosting about 200 gas centrifuges, was also being developed at Natanz. (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 584, 7 March 2003)
The enrichment centrifuge technology used at Natanz is said to be an "advanced supercritical gas centrifuge", which means that Iran was capable of developing an advanced design with very high productivity. Western officials believe that Iran obtained some design information on European centrifuges and intelligence sources said that during the early 1990s, centrifuge design was also received from Pakistan. (Nucleonics Week Special, 7 March 2003)
In turn, Pakistan's centrifuge technology is believed to originate from espionage at the Dutch company, Urenco in the 1970s. Abdul Qadar Khan worked as an engineer on centrifuge design, and took his "knowledge" back to Pakistan, where he became head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Iranian officials denied receiving help from Pakistan and said that the technology and equipment was obtained on the international black market, with help from five brokers (three unnamed Europeans and two from the region). (AFP, 14 January 2004)
In December 2003, Iran signed the "Additional Protocol" of the NPT, granting IAEA inspectors greater authority in verifying and inspecting nuclear facilities. (IAEA, 18 December 2003)