Progress in Iran: access to heavy water reactor

21 August 2009

Inspectors have been allowed to visit the IR-40 heavy water research reactor for the first time in a year as Western relations with Iran appear to be picking up.


The renewed access relieves one of the significant stresses between the international community and Iran, which is working hard in pursuit of indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities.


Iran had been refusing to allow IAEA experts to verify that IR-40 was being built according to announced plans. This was not in breach of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because no nuclear materials were yet on site, but it did violate the Additional Protocol to the NPT that extends access for this kind of purpose.


Denied visits, inspectors had to rely on checks made using satellite imagery, but the IAEA was essentially unable to verify anything after the concrete containment building was complete. Officials in Vienna confirmed the development to World Nuclear News today.


At the same time, an agreement has been reached on a method to maintain continuity of safeguards knowledge at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. The simultaneous operation and construction of the plant had required certain changes in the IAEA's approach to implementing the safeguards that ensure civil-use nuclear materials cannot be diverted to the military or elsewhere. The IAEA had noted the need for a change in approach in its June report, and an updated regime is now in place.


Other problems still remain, most significantly the unanswered questions concerning documents which appear to show research programs covering precision high explosives testing, underground testing arrangements and a missile re-entry vehicle. 


Last year a package of incentives was presented to Iran as a 'last chance' by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and USA as well as the European Union, but it now looks as though fresh talks could be possible. US President Barack Obama has called for direct diplomacy and Iranian officials are saying they want to talk about a range of regional issues.