Surprising Turn

The Arak 40-megawatt, heavy-water reactor, Iran’s IR-40, is under construction since 2004 and will likely be operative sometime in 2013. In violating its safeguards obligations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which the country is a signatory, Iran had denied access by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct already scheduled design information verification visits several times pretending that the reactor is entirely planned for research and development and the production of isotopes for medical purposes. The reactor has raised proliferation concerns since its spent fuel will contain plutonium suitable for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

In a significant move, IAEA inspectors were now allowed to visit the site. The visit took place already last week, news agencies were told by a diplomat on the condition of anonymity. Moreover, Tehran had also allowed the IAEA to step up surveillance at the uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz. The IAEA did not comment on the matter. Claims on Tuesday this week that Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has promised talks with Western powers about its nuclear projects “without preconditions” based on mutual respect have been denied, however, immediately.

Tehran’s surprising turn comes one week before outgoing Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is going to present his final report on Iran’s nuclear activities. In that report speculations may be verified regarding a fuel element shown in pictures made on the occasion of a visit of President Ahmadinejad at the Fuel Manufacturing Plant in Esfahan last spring which had been aired by Iranian media. In a report by Albright, Brannan and Kelly of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) it has been argued that the fuel assembly shown in a picture resembles a respective part used in an older Soviet-ear graphite reactor which is odd for the relatively small heavy-water reactor being constructed at the Arak site.

“A[nother] possibility is simply that Iran is not planning to use this fuel assembly in the Arak reactor. Rather, Iran could have displayed a RBMK [Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy] uranium oxide fuel assembly for publicity purposes, allowing Ahmadinejad to proclaim that Iran had ‘mastered’ this important step of the reactor’s fuel cycle.” (Emphasis added.)

See also on this blog

Peer Review on controversial disputes about Iran’s nuclear breakout capacities.

In a Timely Manner on how ISIS launches its analyses on the Iranian nuclear program for political reason.

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