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.
Reuters
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.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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?

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