Washington, 22 March 2007: A Washington think tank says there has been new construction at the Arak heavy water reactor and production plant in Iran. The Institute for Science and International Security released a briefing on Tuesday as the United Nations Security Council’s 15 permanent and non-permanent members put final touches on a second round of sanctions against Iran for its continued nuclear enrichment efforts.
The ISIS briefing provides an analysis of imagery from GeoEye’s Orb View-3 satellite of the heavy water reactor located near Arak in the western region of Iran. The most recent images were taken on Feb. 25. David Albright and Paul Brannan, analysts at ISIS and authors of the briefing, compared images of the site since February 2005 to conclude that, “Iran is working steadily to construct the Arak reactor.”
“When fully operational, the reactor is estimated to be able to produce about nine kilograms (19.8 pounds) of weapon-grade plutonium per year, enough for one or two nuclear weapons per year,” the briefing stated. Iranian officials have indicated that the reactor will be completed in 2009.
Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has no plans to build reprocessing facilities to separate plutonium from this reactor. Iran said, however, that it intends to build hot cells to separate “long-lived radioisotopes,” suggesting that it may still develop the capability to separate a radioisotope, such as plutonium, for use in a nuclear weapon. The ISIS report indicates that these plans seem to be hindered by difficulty obtaining the necessary components for building the hot cells.
ISIS has been monitoring construction at the site since 2002 and said that the latest images show new construction in the past year on several buildings adjacent to the reactor wall and stack.