Iran plans to start the construction of a controversial heavy water reactor

Iran plans to start building a heavy water reactor, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium according to United Nations diplomats.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  April 17, 2004

Iran plans to start building a heavy water reactor, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium according to United Nations (UN) diplomats. Tehran told Mohamed Elbaradei, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it would start construction in June. Although Iran insists the plant is purely for research, diplomats say it is a worrying development. The plant will be built in Arak, 200km southwest of Tehran and it could produce enough plutonium to make a nuclear weapon each year. Elbaradei was told of Iran’s plans last week, during a visit to the Iranian capital where he has been conducting an assessment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, after the discovery last year that it had not disclosed large-scale efforts to enrich uranium, which can be used in the production of nuclear warheads. The latest report on the reactor “sends a bad signal at a time all eyes are on Iran,” an unnamed diplomat told the AP news agency. Iran says it needs the reactor to produce radioisotopes for medical research. However, spent fuel rods from the heavy water nuclear reactor could be reprocessed to produce plutonium. Iran has been trying to counter international concerns that it is attempting to build a nuclear arsenal, promising to tell the IAEA everything about its nuclear activities. The IAEA is due to meet in June to discuss progress. If it decides there are reasons to censure Iran, the case may be passed to the United Nations Security Council.

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