December 19, 2014
Iran takes a harder line on the fate of Arak reactor
Iran appeared to take a harder line in its nuclear dispute with world powers today by dismissing as "ridiculous" one idea that could allay Western concerns about a planned atomic research reactor.
The fate of the heavy-water reactor at Arak, which has not yet been completed, is one of several thorny issues in talks between Iran and six powers aimed at reaching a long-term deal on Tehran's nuclear programme by an agreed July 20 deadline.
"It is ridiculous that the power of the [Arak] reactor would be cut from 40 megawatts to 10 megawatts", nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi said, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Western powers fear the Arak plant - 250 km southwest of Tehran - could provide a supply of plutonium - one of two materials, along with highly enriched uranium, that can trigger a nuclear explosion - once operational.
Iran says it would produce isotopes for medical treatments, and denies any of its nuclear work is aimed at making a bomb.
If operating optimally, Arak could produce about nine kg (20 pounds) of plutonium annually, enough for about two atom bombs, the US Institute for Science and International Security says.
Araghchi made no other reference to the idea in the remarks carried by IRNA, and it was not clear whether such a reduction in electrical power at the planned facility had been formally proposed at the latest round of talks last week.
But possible options that could allow Iran to keep the reactor at Arak while satisfying the West that it would not be used for military purposes include reducing its megawatt capacity and altering the way it will be fuelled, experts say.
Iran's atomic energy organisation chief said in February Tehran was prepared to modify Arak, while insisting that Western concerns over Arak were a ploy to apply pressure on Tehran.
The fate of Arak was a big hurdle in talks last year that led to a landmark agreement to curb sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for some easing of sanctions.
Araghchi said Iran's negotiating team would do its utmost to get an accord by July 20 based on the country's "red lines," but it would not be a "tragedy" if no deal was reached by then.
Iran's red lines include preserving the Arak reactor and maintaining the enrichment capabilities.
He said the talks would resume in Vienna on June 16-20.