Iran appears to advance in construction of Arak nuclear plant

Fri Feb 22, 2013 6:59am EST
 
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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran appears to be advancing in its construction of a research reactor Western experts say could offer the Islamic state a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course, a U.N. report showed.

Iran has almost completed installation of cooling and moderator circuit piping in the heavy water plant near the town of Arak, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a confidential report issued to member states late on Thursday.

Nuclear analysts say this type of reactor could yield plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed, something Iran has said it has no intention of doing. Iran has said it "does not have reprocessing activities", the IAEA said.

In its previous report on Iran, in November, the Vienna-based U.N. agency said installation work at Arak was continuing, without giving any indication of how far advanced it was.

Iran rejects Western allegations it seeks to develop a capability to assemble nuclear weapons, saying its atomic program is entirely peaceful and that the Arak reactor will produce isotopes for medical and agricultural use.

Iran says it plans to begin operating the facility in the first quarter of 2014, the IAEA said. Tehran last year postponed the planned start-up from the third quarter of 2013, a target that Western experts said always had seemed unrealistic.

The Arms Control Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, said late last year that it was questionable whether Iran would be able to meet the new target date as well, in view of "significant delays and impeded access to necessary materials" because of international sanctions imposed on Iran.

Western worries about Iran are focused largely on uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, as such material refined to a high level can provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb. But experts say Arak may also be a proliferation issue.   Continued...

 
A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran January 15, 2011. REUTERS/ISNA/Hamid Forootan