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Iran's Nukes

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WSJ: Iran Adding Plutonium Path to Nuke Program

August 5th 2013

Iran Missiles

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Iran may be embarking on the worrisome plutonium path to nuclear weapons. WSJ report Jay Solomon wrote:

"Iran could begin producing weapons-grade plutonium by next summer, U.S. and European officials believe, using a different nuclear technology that would be easier for foreign countries to attack. The second path to potentially producing a nuclear weapon could complicate international efforts to negotiate with Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, who was sworn in Sunday in Tehran. It also heightens the possibility of an Israeli strike, said U.S. and European officials. New Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, seen after his swearing-in at the parliament in Tehran on Sunday, called on the West to drop sanctions."

Solomon also reported why the plutonium path was so worrying to Western officials. He wrote:

"Until now, U.S. and Western governments had been focused primarily on Iran's vast program to enrich uranium, one path to creating the fissile materials needed for nuclear weapons. Now, the West is increasingly concerned Iran also could use the development of a heavy water nuclear reactor to produce plutonium for a bomb. A heavy-water reactor is an easier target to hit than the underground facilities that house Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities.

"Some Iranians and foreign diplomats hope that Mr. Rouhani, a former top nuclear negotiator, will try to negotiate an end to the sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. After being sworn in, Mr. Rouhani called on the West to drop the sanctions. "If you seek a suitable answer, speak to Iran through the language of respect, not through the language of sanctions," he said.

"In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr. Rouhani's inauguration represented "an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community's deep concerns over Iran's nuclear program." "Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States," Mr. Carney said. In recent months, U.S. and European officials say, the Tehran regime has made significant advances on the construction of a heavy water reactor in the northwestern city of Arak. A reactor like the one under construction is capable of using the uranium fuel to produce 40 megawatts of power. Spent fuel from it contains plutonium—which, like enriched uranium, can serve as the raw material for an explosive device. India and Pakistan have built plutonium-based bombs, as has North Korea.

"The Arak facility, when completed, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs' worth of plutonium a year, said U.S. and U.N. officials. Iran has notified the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, that it plans to make the reactor operational by the second half of 2014 and could begin testing it later this year. The IAEA has been monitoring Arak since its construction began. But following Iran's latest timeline, the site's importance has vastly shot up for Washington and Brussels, said U.S. and European officials. "It really crept up on us," said an official based at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters. Iran denies it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It has told the IAEA it is building Arak to produce isotopes used in medical treatments, said U.N. officials.

"The development is of deep concern to Israel, which fears it could become the target of any Iranian nuclear attack. It presents a new challenge to the Obama administration's efforts to engage with Mr. Rouhani, a Scottish-educated cleric who has pledged to negotiate with the U.S. and other world powers over Tehran's nuclear program. U.S. and European officials said in recent interviews that they are hoping to start negotiations with Mr. Rouhani's new government in September. "At this stage, our most pressing concern is dealing with the enrichment of uranium. But we are increasingly concerned about activity…at Arak," said a senior European official involved in the Iran diplomacy.

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran's nuclear facilities if international diplomacy stalls. He publicly warned Iran in July not to move forward with the commissioning of the Arak reactor, or risk facing military action."

"They're pursuing an alternate route of plutonium…to build a nuclear bomb," the Israeli leader said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on July 14. "They haven't yet reached it, but they're getting closer to it. And they have to be stopped."

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