Today’s New York Times reports that “Iran appears to have slowed its drive to produce nuclear fuel, according to European diplomats who have reviewed reports from inspectors inside the country.” The article indicates that, either for diplomatic or technical reasons, Iran’s uranium enrichment program at Natanz seems to have stalled. But uranium enrichment is not the beginning and end of Iran’s “drive to produce nuclear fuel.”
In addition to uranium enrichment, Iran is also on the route toward producing weapons-grade plutonium. This brief (.pdf) from the Institute for Science and International Security shows, with satellite imagery, that construction is continuing steadily on a heavy water reactor in Arak. If it stays on schedule, this reactor could be fully operational by 2009. From the brief:
Once fully operational, the Arak reactor can produce about nine kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium each year, or enough for about two nuclear weapons each year. Because of concerns about the potential misuse of this reactor, the IAEA’s Board of Governors called on Iran to halt construction of the Arak reactor in a resolution adopted February 4, 2006.
Any policy decision based on Iran’s nuclear timetable must take into account the Islamic Republic’s progress on uranium and on plutonium. Indications that they’ve slowed down on one front aren’t particularly meaningful unless they are slowing down on all fronts.
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