IAEA: Iran Expands Nuclear Capacity, Delays Sensitive Reactor

An August 26, 2006 view of the Arak heavy-water project, southwest of Tehran, Iran.
An August 26, 2006 view of the Arak heavy-water project, southwest of Tehran, Iran.
Reuters
Iran plans to test about 1,000 advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges it has completed installing, a U.N. nuclear report showed, a move likely to worry Western capitals hoping for a change of course under the country's new president.
 
The U.N. atomic agency's quarterly report - the first since relative moderate Hassan Rouhani won Iran's June presidential election - also revealed developments that could help buy time for diplomacy between Tehran and major powers, however.
 
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran informed it a few days ago that the planned commissioning of the Arak research reactor - which could yield potential bomb material - had been delayed from early next year.
 
“This is a positive development since the reactor would produce plutonium that, if separated, could be used in nuclear weapons,” a U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security [ISIS], said in a comment on the report.
 
Further, Iran's most sensitive nuclear stockpile has hardly grown - remaining below its arch-enemy Israel's stated “red line” that could provoke military action - since the previous IAEA report in May.
 
Growth in Iran's reserve of uranium gas refined to 20 percent was held back as Iran stepped up conversion of the material into oxide to make fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran. The stockpile of 186 kg compares with the 240-250 kg which experts say would be needed for a bomb if refined further.
 
“It is unlikely, at this point, that Iran could dash toward further enrichment to weapons-grade without the IAEA detecting Tehran's activities,” said the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.
 
Iran says its nuclear energy program is for electricity generation and medical uses only. It has rejected Western accusations that it is trying to develop the capability to produce nuclear bombs, despite having hidden sensitive activities from U.N. non-proliferation inspectors in the past.
 
Israel has threatened to attack Iran if diplomatic pressure fails to rein in its program and it amasses enough 20 percent enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.
 
The IAEA's findings still showed Iran pressing ahead with its nuclear program at a time when the outside world is waiting to see if Rouhani will increase transparency and reduce confrontation in its foreign relations, as he has pledged.
 
The top Democrat on the foreign affairs committee of the U.S. House of Representation, Eliot Engel, renewed a call for tighter sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program after the report was released.

Reactor delay
 
Envoys accredited to the IAEA had cautioned against reading too much into the latest inspectors' report as it mainly covered developments before Rouhani took office in early August, succeeding the conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
 
Separately the IAEA announced a resumption on September 27 of talks with Iran over how to get it to cooperate with an agency inquiry into “possible military dimensions” to its nuclear work. There have been 10 fruitless rounds of talks since early 2012, but the next session will be the first with Rouhani in office.
 
Obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, the IAEA report said Iran had fully installed a total of 1,008 new-generation centrifuges at the underground Natanz complex and was planning to test their performance, without giving a timetable. Iran started installing the new centrifuges in February, stoking Western concern.
 
The machines were “under vacuum”, the report said, a key step towards starting them up.
 
Iran's progress in introducing advanced centrifuges is under close scrutiny in the West and Israel - which is assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal - because this would enable Tehran to speed up its accumulation of material that could be put to producing atomic bombs.
 
Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to produce enriched uranium, which Iran says it needs to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants. But if further refined, uranium can also provide the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.
 
The report said Iran had begun making nuclear fuel for its planned Arak heavy-water research reactor but had put off its commissioning beyond the planned first quarter of 2014.
 
It was not unexpected as “many people couldn't believe the schedule. But it was the first time that Iran acknowledged this,” an international official familiar with the issue said.
 
Western leaders are concerned the Arak complex could offer Iran a second path to weapons-grade fissile material by churning out plutonium. Iran denies any such intention.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs