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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs