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Iran Prepping Plutonium Reactor, Would Give Tehran Second Nuke Weapons Pathway

Iran may soon bring online its heavy-water research facility at Arak, a critical step in establishing for Tehran a second pathway for producing weapons-grade nuclear material. Tehran has a vast network of facilities widely believed to be aimed at producing a uranium-based bomb. The Arak facility would produce nuclear material necessary to pursue a plutonium-based nuclear bomb, of the type that North Korea has used.

The latest report from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog explicitly calls attention to – and expresses worries regarding – the Arak facility:

At the research reactor under construction at Arak, which Iran says will start operating in the third quarter of 2014, the IAEA said that the plant’s large reactor vessel had been received but not yet installed. The same was true of a number of other major components, it added. Iran had not provided the IAEA with “urgently required” updated design information for the IR-40 reactor at Arak since 2006, the IAEA added.

“This is important because the reactor could be used to produce enough weapons grade plutonium for one weapon a year,” Mark Fitzpatrick, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

The latest IAEA report – leaked in late May [PDF] – shows that Iran continues to make important advancements across its nuclear program. The agency expressed itself increasingly concerned” about undisclosed Iranian nuclear activity that has been occuring since 2012 Iran “since 2002.” Like Amano, the IAEA report flags the heavy water reactor in Arak, where “Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended [its] work.”

Observers fear that Iran will follow what has become “an emerging production strategy” in building nuclear infrastructure. The Iranians have used multiple tracks and facilities to edge toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons: the technical capability to enrich weapons-grade material, build a nuclear warhead, and mount it on a delivery system.

[Photo: Nanking2012 / Wiki Commons]