Iran Official Rules Out Change to Heavy-Water Reactor

Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor complex, shown in 2011. An Iranian government spokesman in a Wednesday article said it is "too late" to potentially convert the unfinished facility to a light-water site, as suggested by some international observers.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Feb. 12, 2014, 9:42 a.m.

An Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cial on Wed­nes­day set aside the idea of po­ten­tially al­ter­ing a nuc­le­ar re­act­or that oth­er na­tions fear could pro­duce atom­ic-bomb fuel.

Ir­an can­not con­vert its Arak heavy-wa­ter re­act­or to a light-wa­ter fa­cil­ity, Ham­id Babaei, a spokes­man for Ir­an’s del­eg­a­tion to the United Na­tions, wrote in a Wed­nes­day com­ment­ary pub­lished by the Lon­don Guard­i­an.

Such a change would re­duce the un­fin­ished site’s ca­pa­city to pro­duce weapon-us­able plutoni­um once ac­tiv­ated, ad­dress­ing a ma­jor con­cern shared by world powers as they seek a deal with Ir­an aimed at pre­vent­ing its atom­ic as­sets from sup­port­ing any nuc­le­ar-arms pro­duc­tion. But the dip­lo­mat­ic of­fi­cial said this kind of modi­fic­a­tion would prove in­feas­ible.

“It is now too late to change [the Arak re­act­or] in­to a light-wa­ter pro­to­type, as some have sug­ges­ted in the West,” Babaei wrote. “This ‘gen­er­ous’ of­fer should have been made much earli­er.”

His as­ser­tion came a week after Ali Ak­bar Salehi, head of the Ir­a­ni­an Atom­ic En­ergy Or­gan­iz­a­tion, re­portedly ex­pressed open­ness to modi­fy­ing the Arak site “to pro­duce less plutoni­um.”

On Tues­day, a former U.S. na­tion­al se­cur­ity staffer said shut­ting down or sig­ni­fic­antly al­ter­ing the Arak re­act­or would be one of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “key con­sid­er­a­tions” in seek­ing a com­pre­hens­ive nuc­le­ar agree­ment with Ir­an. The Per­sian Gulf power, which in­sists the site is strictly for med­ic­al use, is set on Feb. 18 to be­gin talks on the po­ten­tial deal with China, Ger­many, France, Rus­sia, the United King­dom and the United States.

“If Ir­an genu­inely in­tends Arak to be a fa­cil­ity that pro­duces med­ic­al iso­topes only, it should be able to agree to such modi­fic­a­tions without sig­ni­fic­ant fuss,” Jofi Joseph, a former White House non­pro­lif­er­a­tion of­fi­cial, wrote in a Tues­day ana­lys­is for Har­vard Uni­versity’s Belfer Cen­ter for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Af­fairs.

In Sen­ate testi­mony last week, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s seni­or Ir­an ne­go­ti­at­or dis­missed Tehran’s ra­tionale for build­ing the heavy-wa­ter fa­cil­ity.

“We do not be­lieve there is any reas­on for a heavy-wa­ter re­act­or at all in a civil nuc­le­ar pro­gram of the type that Ir­an is in­ter­ested in,” Un­der Sec­ret­ary of State Wendy Sher­man said dur­ing a Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee hear­ing. She did not ex­pli­citly say in testi­mony wheth­er the United States would de­mand the fa­cil­ity’s clos­ure or con­ver­sion.

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