LONDON – Satellite images show that Iran’s Arak heavy water plant is operational, raising fears that it is trying to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb, Britain’s Daily Telegraph claimed Tuesday.
The newspaper published images on its website that appear to show steam rising from forced air coolers, suggesting heavy water production at the plant, which has been closed to international inspectors for 18 months.
Heavy water is required in plutonium-producing reactors and that raises alarms that Tehran is seeking a second path to obtain the bomb. Stuart Ray of consultancy firm McKenzie Intelligence Services told the paper that the images, commissioned from commercial satellite operators, suggested that the heavily guarded facility was “operational.”
World powers and Iran on Tuesday exchanged offers at talks in Kazakhstan aimed at breaking a decade of deadlock over Tehran’s disputed nuclear drive.
Iran was preparing a counteroffer to a Tuesday proposal by the U.S. and its partners to ease some banking, petrochemical and gold sanctions if the nation ceases its output of 20 percent enriched uranium, officials close to the negotiations said.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei first appeared to brush off the offer, saying Iran wouldn’t negotiate with a gun to its head, a reference to dozens of sanctions on Iranian oil, banking, shipping and trade imposed by the U.S. and the EU since late 2011.
International efforts have so far been concentrated on Tehran’s attempts to enrich uranium, but the Telegraph insists that the new evidence shows it is developing a “Plan B.”
According to the paper, Western nations have known about activity at Arak for some time.
Plutonium is produced as part of the mix in spent nuclear fuel, along with unused uranium.
To make plutonium usable, a reprocessing plant is needed to separate it from the other materials in spent fuel. It can then be embedded into the core of a nuclear weapon.
“Some think Israel’s red line for military action is before Arak comes on line,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former U.S. State Department official at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The option of a military strike on an operating reactor would present enormous complications because of the radiation that would be spread,” he said in comments published by the Telegraph.
Stuxnet traced to 2005
THE WASHINGTON POST
The secret cybersabotage campaign aimed at Iran’s nuclear program may have been in existence as early as 2005 and may have been capable of inflicting more damage than previously known, according to a security firm’s analysis released Tuesday.
The findings, by the security company Symantec, were announced after the discovery of an earlier variant of Stuxnet, as researchers have dubbed the worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel.
The variant, which they have called Stuxnet 0.5, was being developed as early as 2005, five years before the discovery of the now-famous version of the worm.
Unlike that version, which caused centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility to speed up and slow down until they crashed, Stuxnet 0.5 was built to modify the pressure of the raw uranium gas being fed into the centrifuges by opening and closing intake valves, thus affecting the centrifuges’ operation, said Vikram Thakur, a researcher with Symantec Security Response.