Expert: Iran slows nuclear programme progress temporarily

Expert: Iran slows nuclear programme progress temporarily

Baku, Azerbaijan, Nov. 18

By Umid Niayesh - Trend:

Iran has slowed down the development speed of its nuclear facilities, but the activities are not halted, expert on nuclear issues Reza Taghizadeh told Trend.

On November 17, French President Francois Hollande said at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran should meet four demands to reach an agreement over its nuclear energy programme in the upcoming talks with the world's six major powers in Geneva.

Putting all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision, suspending enrichment to 20 per cent, reducing the existing stock and halting construction of the Arak (heavy water) plant are conditions France as a member of P5+1 has put forward for reaching an agreement with Iran.

The last round of nuclear talks between Iran and the five United Nations with veto powers plus Germany, known as P5+1, ended on November 10 without any result.

Iranian officials blame France, claiming that the country's tough position caused the negotiations to fail.

Hollande`s conditions shows it would be harder for Iran to achieve an agreement with P5+1 during the next round of talks, scheduled to be held in Geneva on November 20 and 21. Resolving the Iran's nuclear issue is among the main priorities of the country's President Hassan Rouhani,

Taghizadeh said, adding that Rouhani is trying to keep Iran's nuclear activities at the current slow status, without passing the west's redlines such as keeping 20 per cent enriched uranium reserves under 200 kilogrammes.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)`s latest report released on November 14, Iran continues to convert its 19.75 percent uranium hexafluoride into uranium oxide, but it has increased its stockpile of near 20 per cent low enriched uranium hexafluoride by 10 kg to 196 kg total.

It shows that Rouhani is continuing ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policy and paying attention to security considerations on keeping 20 per cent enriched uranium under 200 kilogrammes, Taghizadeh argued.

He went on to note that, Netanyahu has earlier underlined that if Iran's 20 per cent enriched uranium increases up to 245 kilogrammes, the country will be able to test a nuclear weapon.

Since then, Iran converted its surplus 20 per cent of enriched uranium production in excess of 200 kg to uranium oxide, claiming to produce fuel to avoid passing the West's red line, Taghizadeh added.

While putting all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision is amongst Francois Hollande`s conditions, Iran continues to prevent supervision of the Arak Heavy Water Reactor as well as the alleged Parchin high explosives test site, the expert said.

"During the last visit of the Director General of IAEA, Yukiya Amano to Iran, Iranian officials allowed IAEA to inspect the Gachin uranium mine in the south of the country which has no importance and is not included among Iran's obligations, instead Parchin," Tagizadeh said.

"Iran also announced its agreement with inspections on Arak`s heavy water production plant, not on the Arak`s heavy-water reactor."

Iran's heavy water production plant and heavy water reactor which remains under construction is located near the city of Arak.

The start date of the Arak IR-40 Heavy Water Reactor is difficult to determine. If operating optimally, the IR-40 would produce about nine kilogrammes of plutonium annually or enough for about two nuclear weapons each year. Intermittently, Iran has allowed the IAEA access to the IR-40 reactor at Arak, but in recent years, has not allowed the Agency full access.

Amano`s latest report indicates that the installation activity at the Arak IR-40 Heavy Water Reactor almost halted, Thagizadeh said, adding that it may be due to Iran's political considerations.

Iran's heavy water production plant was commissioned in August 2006. By United Nations Security Council resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was ordered to suspend all work on heavy water related projects. However, the country has not halted this work and maintains that it has no legal obligation to do so. Though Iran granted IAEA inspectors access on August 17, 2011, they were not permitted to obtain samples of Iran's heavy water. The IAEA monitors the status of the facility via satellite imagery.

The slow progress speed of Iran's nuclear programme has also technical as well as political reasons, he added.

Ahmadinejad tried to use the country's nuclear programme for promotional targets, Taghizadeh said, adding that, during the last months of the previous administration, Iranian officials announced incomplete nuclear projects as achievements. They tried to show all technical capacities as practical power.

For example currently approximately 7000 centrifuges are installed at Natanz, while many of them are not ready for enrichment and even not tested, the expert added.

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