Iran Nuclear NewsIranian Opposition Group Cites Reactor Concerns

Iranian Opposition Group Cites Reactor Concerns

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The Wall Street Journal: An Iranian opposition group claims Iran has accelerated construction of a heavy-water nuclear reactor in the western part of the country that, when completed, could be used to make fuel for atomic weapons. If true, yesterday’s charge by the National Council of Resistance of Iran could further complicate talks between Iran and the so-called EU-3 — France, Britain and Germany — to secure “objective guarantees” Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal

By MARC CHAMPION
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Page A1

An Iranian opposition group claims Iran has accelerated construction of a heavy-water nuclear reactor in the western part of the country that, when completed, could be used to make fuel for atomic weapons.

If true, yesterday’s charge by the National Council of Resistance of Iran could further complicate talks between Iran and the so-called EU-3 — France, Britain and Germany — to secure “objective guarantees” Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons.

The Council’s claims couldn’t be independently verified, and the group’s largest member, the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran, is listed as a terrorist entity by the U.S. and Britain. U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency officials have expressed skepticism about a number of the Council’s more recent claims. However, in August 2002 it exposed the existence of the Arak site and an extensive covert Iranian program to enrich uranium. Those claims were confirmed by the IAEA, the United Nations’ Vienna-based nuclear watchdog.

According to the Council, Iran aims to complete a heavy-water production facility at the Qatran Complex in Arak by August, after gas leaks and other technical problems delayed an earlier target date of November 2004. Heavy water is used to control the nuclear reactions in a reactor.

In addition, the group claims Iranian officials have ordered work speeded up at another part of the complex — a planned 40-megawatt heavy-water research reactor — and that workers are operating in double shifts. Iran says it is building that research reactor for civilian purposes, but the plutonium waste from heavy-water reactors can be used to make weapons fuel.

Work on the Arak facility is legal and wouldn’t breach the letter of Iran’s deal with the Europeans, under which Iran suspended all activities related to its uranium-enrichment program, another potential route to weapons-grade fuel. Arak has been of less concern because the foundations for it only recently were laid and Iran is still some distance from producing plutonium waste, a Western diplomat in Vienna said.

However, according to a British official familiar with the nuclear talks, confirmation that Iran is accelerating work at Arak would breach the spirit of the negotiations. The problem, this official said, is that while the Europeans are trying to secure permanent “objective guarantees” that Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons, completing the Arak facility “would be a jigsaw piece in an overall puzzle — the Iranians having at some stage in the future a capability to produce material for weapons use.”

Mortadar Ramandi, spokesman at the Iranian mission to the U.N. in New York, denied any allegation that the Iranian government has ordered an acceleration of construction at the research reactor, and said that rector “won’t be completed any time soon.” Iran repeatedly has said it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon and that it has a legal right to any civilian nuclear technology, regardless of whether it also could be used for military purposes.

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