News / Middle East

US Experts: Modify Iran's Arak Plant to Reduce Bomb Threat

FILE - A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran, Iran.
FILE - A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran, Iran.
Changes to the design of Iran's planned Arak research reactor could drastically reduce its output of potential nuclear weapon material, U.S. experts said in a proposal.

How to deal with Arak is one of several issues that must be tackled in negotiations between Iran and six global powers that got under way in February with the aim of reaching a long-term deal on the decade-old nuclear dispute by late July.

Princeton University academics said annual production of plutonium could be cut to less than a kilogram - well below the roughly eight kilograms needed for an atomic bomb - if Iran altered the way the plant is fueled, and if it lowered its power capacity.

“These redesigns would not reduce the usefulness of the reactor for making radioisotopes and conducting research,” wrote Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian - members of Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security.

“This approach would meet Iran's needs and would address the concerns of the international community,” said their article, due to be published on Wednesday by the online journal of the Arms Control Association, a U.S. research and advocacy group.

Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear bombs, saying its program is aimed at generating electricity and carrying out peaceful research.

Experts from Iran and the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and China are due to meet in Vienna for three days from Thursday to be followed by a third round of political-level talks next week.

Western powers fear Arak could provide a supply of plutonium - one of two materials, along with highly enriched uranium, that can trigger a nuclear explosion - once operational.

The Islamic Republic has said its 40-megawatt, heavy-water reactor is intended to produce isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments. Iran agreed to halt installation work at Arak under an interim deal reached with the powers last year.

Their positions seem far apart. Iran has ruled out shutting down any nuclear site, including Arak, which has been under construction for years. The United States says it sees no need for Arak as part of a civilian nuclear program.

Win-win solution for Arak?

However, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, in February signaled some flexibility, saying it was prepared to modify Arak to help allay any concerns.

Heavy-water reactors, fueled by natural uranium, are seen as especially suitable for yielding plutonium. To do so, however, a nuclear reprocessing plant would also be needed to extract the plutonium. Iran is not known to have any such plant.

If operating optimally, Arak could produce about nine kg of plutonium annually, the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security says.

Any long-term deal must lower that amount, experts say.

The Princeton University experts said that changing Arak's fueling and operating power would make it less of a proliferation concern, even if it were to remain a heavy water-moderated reactor.

“The conversion steps described above are technically feasible,” they said in the article titled “A Win-Win Solution for Iran's Arak Reactor.”

Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. State Department official on Iran, said that at a minimum, using enriched uranium fuel and reducing the power level would be required for Arak. He said preferably it also would be converted to a light-water reactor, however, which is a more extensive reconfiguration step that Iran may resist.

Arak was still a less immediate concern than Iran's existing uranium enrichment program, which gives it the ability to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in a couple of months, Einhorn said in a new report.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Frankie from: U.S
April 03, 2014 11:09 PM
Funny stuff you guys. Bomb the place? And who should do this again?? Right Mr. Mobarak. Try again you jerk.

by: WorldView from: USA
April 02, 2014 8:03 PM
The head of Iran's atomic energy organization Salehi already proposed changes to the Arak reactor design several months ago. The author(s) of this article seem not to be aware of this fact. All the ballyhoo about Arak is nonsense. Even a light-water reactor can produce plutonium.

Marwan from Egypt: When you live in a civilized country where the army doesn't massacre thousands in the streets, then you can talk about other countries. Right now, you live in a backward dump.

by: Marwan from: Egypt
April 02, 2014 3:48 PM
modify it..??? hey, Idiot, you should bomb the damned thing..!!! reduce it to a pile of dirt. or you will have no peace... not in the Middle East nor at your home. it seems that the Americans have not yet understood the depravity of the Iranians.
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 03, 2014 3:54 PM
Is this Mawan Stein Berger trying to sound like an egyptian?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs