AFP: A group of UN atomic inspectors on Monday visited a heavy water reactor in Iran that is one of the key Western concerns over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, officials said.
by Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN, July 30, 2007 (AFP) – A group of UN atomic inspectors on Monday visited a heavy water reactor in Iran that is one of the key Western concerns over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, officials said.
The visit, agreed in talks between Iran and the UN atomic agency, was the first inspection since Iran in April blocked access to the plutonium-producing research reactor, which lies outside the central town of Arak.
“International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts on Monday inspected the 40 megawatt research reactor in Arak,” the state-run IRNA agency quoted an unnamed informed source as saying.
“The inspection took around five hours,” the source added. “The inspection follows the recent agreement between the IAEA and Iran and is part of the framework of solving the remaining issues in Iran’s nuclear case.”
Iran had said on July 13 that it would let IAEA inspectors visit the Arak nuclear reactor, which is currently under construction and should be completed in 2009.
Its decision was seen as a conciliatory move at a time of mounting tension over the Iranian nuclear programme, which has already seen Tehran slapped with two sets of UN sanctions and threats of more punitive action.
The United States fears the Arak reactor could provide plutonium for nuclear weapons but Iran insists that it will provide key nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA’s governing board has also blocked technical cooperation for the heavy-water reactor in Arak, 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Tehran.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said that “just one visit (to Arak) will be enough” for the inspectors.
The heavy water reactor is separate from the other controversial nuclear sites in the country that are aimed at making fuel for Iran’s future nuclear power plants.
The sites in Isfahan and Natanz convert and then enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, a process that the West also fears could be diverted to make atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
The inspectors’ visit to Arak was finalised after talks in Vienna on July 24 between IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen and Iran’s deputy national security chief Javad Vaidi.
Those talks were part of an ongoing process aimed at on finalising a plan to clarify issues related to the scope and content of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini confirmed another team of IAEA experts would be visiting Iran on August 6 to discuss future inspections of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
Iran will then hold a third round of talks with IAEA officials in Tehran on August 20 following the visit earlier this month by the agency’s Heinonen, he added.
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment and also halt construction of the Arak reactor but Tehran has instead defiantly ploughed ahead with its nuclear programme.
Western experts believe that when it is up and running, Arak will be able to produce 12.5 kilograms of plutonium each year, enough for two or three nuclear bombs.