Enrichment, Arak among key hurdles in Iran nuclear talks

A view of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor (file photo)

(Reuters) – The future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the fate of its Arak reactor – projects the West fears could yield atom bomb fuel – must be agreed if a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activity is to be finally settled.

Both issues are expected to be on the agenda during a March 18-19 meeting between Iranand six world powers – the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – in Vienna. Iran says its nuclear work is peaceful.

The aim is to reach a comprehensive agreement by late July that would define the permissible size of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions that have severely hurt the Islamic Republic’s oil exports.

Here is a brief overview of the key issues involved:

URANIUM ENRICHMENT

– Western powers have in effect abandoned idea that Iran must halt all its enrichment of uranium, which they fear may be aimed at developing atomic bombs, but want it curbed.

– Iran says it refines uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, rules out closing Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities.

– It now has nearly 10,000 centrifuges spinning at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope.

– Number should be cut to low thousands – Western experts

– United States and allies want to deny Iran any capability to quickly dash for a nuclear bomb.

CENTRIFUGE RESEARCH

– Iran is developing new centrifuge models at Natanz.

– Modern machines could enrich uranium faster.

– Iran says it has right to technology for civilian use.

– Interim accord allows Iran to continue existing R&D.

– But powers will likely seek strict limits on R&D.

ARAK

– West fears planned heavy water research reactor could yield plutonium, potential bomb fuel.

– Iran says Arak designed to produce medical isotopes.

– Western experts say the reactor could be changed to ease bomb fears, for example by reducing power or changing fuel.

– Iran has suggested it could modify plant; no details.

IAEA PROBE

– U.N. nuclear watchdog investigating suspicions Iran may have researched how to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies it.

– Western officials say Iran must address allegations as part of settlement of broader dispute. But unclear exactly how.

SANCTIONS

– Iran wants punitive measures lifted quickly.

– But powers likely to do so only gradually under any deal.

By Reuters

 

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