News / Middle East

Iran’s Reactor-Fuel Demand Snarls Nuclear Talks

FILE: European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smile at the start of nuclear talks in Vienna April 8, 2014.
FILE: European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smile at the start of nuclear talks in Vienna April 8, 2014.
Reuters
Iran has said it should be able to produce fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power plant, a demand that world powers are unlikely to agree to and that may jeopardize a July deadline for a deal to end its nuclear standoff with the West.
 
Diplomats from the six major powers negotiating with Tehran said Iranian negotiators expressed the demand at the latest talks in May, identifying one reason why little progress was made toward a nuclear deal that could end Tehran's economic isolation.
 
Iran's ability to produce enriched uranium goes to the heart of a decade-old dispute over its nuclear program. The fuel can be used both to power reactors and, if further processed, to make the core of a nuclear warhead.
 
A diplomat from the “P5+1” countries in talks with Iran -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- told Reuters the Iranians “expect to get capacity to fuel Busheh and that’s unrealistic.
 
“It gets you a very short breakout time,'' he said, referring to the time necessary to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb.
 
Current U.N. Security Council resolutions demand that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. The country has refused, saying its nuclear work is entirely peaceful. A new deal likely would allow enrichment, but it also would aim to extend significantly the amount of time Iran would need to assemble bomb material if it chose to do so.
 
Talks are scheduled to resume in mid-June. 
 
Russian opposition?
 
Iran's demand to make its own fuel for the 1,000-megawatt power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr may face resistance from Russia, which built it and in 2011 signed a 10-year contract to supply the fuel.
 
That might hurt Tehran’s negotiating stance, which relies in part on Moscow's moderate approach toward Tehran compared to the West at the talks.
 
To reach a deal, the sides will also have to agree on issues such as the future of other Iranian nuclear facilities and the speed and timeline of Western relief from economic sanctions.
 
One diplomat said Iran seemed to have scaled back its previous openness to resolve concerns over the heavy-water Arak reactor, which the West fears could provide plutonium for bombs once it is operational.
 
Centrifuge number a core concern
 
At the May talks, Iranian officials appeared to suggest specific technical solutions that ran contrary to Western expectations, diplomats said. Iran has since publicly dismissed as “ridiculous” one solution that could allay western concerns.
 
A key issue that will determine Iran's enrichment capacity is the number of centrifuges, the machines spinning at supersonic speed to concentrate uranium's fissile element, which it can retain.
 
Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges, with roughly half of them in operation. Western diplomats say only about half of the number of machines operating would be acceptable, although any long-term deal would depend on other factors, including the extent of oversight by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
 
Such a number could be a small fraction of what might be needed to fuel Bushehr.

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Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
June 04, 2014 2:31 PM
Once again Iran driving the talks. And why not if the most dreaded military power told the world its citizens have become war-weary, while at the same time weakly saying all options are on table. The Iran issue should be beyond just compliance with IAEA to world safety and Iran's accountability, reliability and safety of a world with nuclear Iran. Much as Iran knows better than turn against Russia, using a deal it has with Russia as a joker simply means one thing - Iran wants to call the bluff of both the P5+1 and IAEA. Seeing it is possible to get what it wants in the reign of a weak administration at the White House, why not go the whole hug? Israel has been the restraining force, but somehow Iran seems to understand its strong lobby group in Congress has quietened IPAC considerably persuaded by the White House which gave itself away from the onset when it showed its incapability to maneuver the diplomatic front. It's this inability to navigate the troubled waters of international waters of diplomacy that is giving Iran the new impetus to achieve whatever height it could until perhaps a new strong White House comes on stream late 2016.

In Response

by: George from: San Francisco
June 05, 2014 9:00 PM
Godwin from: Nigeria: You have no idea what you are talking about. Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons. Read Gareth Porter's book, "Manufactured Crisis," to understand that the "Iran nuclear issue," is a figment of the imagination of powers that be. It is a charade. And, I don't think the U.S. government has the courage to admit it.

This problem could be solved easily in July. Unfortunately, it is more likely that we'll go another 30 years without any progress. Well, the Cuba fiasco is almost 60 years old. We need enemies to survive and Iran is a convenient tool.


by: George from: San Francisco
June 03, 2014 11:57 PM
Iran needs to be self-sufficient in the production of fuel for its reactors. Otherwise, it will be blackmailed on the slightest excuse. Russia is going along with the Western demands because its wants to sell the fuel to Iran. But, the Russians are not to be trusted either.

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