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. Iran pouring foundation for heavy-water nuclear reactor - diplomats
VIENNA (AFP) Mar 03, 2005
Iran is pouring the concrete foundation for a heavy-water nuclear reactor which can make weapons-grade plutonium and which the UN atomic agency had asked it not to build, diplomats said Thursday.

The work at a 40-megawatt reactor at Arak, southwest of Tehran, began in September, just after the UN atomic agency had asked Iran to refrain from building the reactor as a "confidence-building measure" that it does not seek to make nuclear weapons, a diplomat who asked not to be named told AFP.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director Pierre Goldschmidt said Tuesday that Iran was pressing ahead with work on the Arak reactor but he gave no details on how far the work had progressed.

Goldschmidt said IAEA inspectors had not visited the site since the agency's board of governors adopted the resolution on September 18 calling on Iran "voluntarily to reconsider its decision to start construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water."

Diplomats said the source for their information on Arak was satellite photographs.

"The Iranians have clearly begun working on the foundations," a diplomat said.

Goldschmidt's comments came as Iran was taken to task for lack of cooperation with the IAEA at a meeting in Vienna this week of the agency's governing board.

US delegation chief Jackie Sanders said: "There remain an alarming number of unresolved questions about Iran's nuclear program."

Iran has said it wants to use the heavy-water reactor, which takes natural uranium oxide as fuel, to make medical isotopes.

But the IAEA is concerned about the proliferation risk as the reactor could produce 8-10 kilograms of plutonium per year, enough to make at least one nuclear bomb.

In Tehran on Tuesday, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said Iran was working hard on Arak in order to advance its nuclear program, despite having agreed with the European Union to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

"We have a lot of things to do, especially to complete the heavy water reactor in Arak and other things in order to reach the point where we can resume enrichment," Rowhani said on state television.

The construction of the reactor could be completed by 2009.

Iran has rejected an offer from the European Union to help it get a light-water research reactor in exchange for giving up its heavy-water project.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on February 13: "We welcome such proposals but we will not under any circumstances replace our heavy-water research reactor."

EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany are trying to convince Iran to dismantle an enrichment programme which the United States says is part of a covert atomic weapons development, in return for economic and political rewards.

Diplomats said EU negotiators have offered to send a mission to help Tehran obtain a light-water research reactor in what would be the first concrete move towards rewarding it for abandoning uranium enrichment.

But Tehran's stance on the Arak reactor is likely to complicate the European task amid an escalating war of words between Iran and the United States over the Islamic regime's nuclear activities.

The Europeans say they cannot understand why Iran would want a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor when its whole enrichment programme is based on uranium.

Enrichment uses centrifuges to refine out what can be uranium reactor fuel but also the explosive core of atom bombs.

Atom bombs can be made from either plutonium or uranium.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely for civilian energy needs.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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