Iran ditching uranium for plutonium? New images suggest ‘Plan B’

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Images allegedly showing activity in one of Iran’s nuclear facilities, which international inspectors have been barred from entering, have been released on Wednesday.

The pictures show Iran has “activated the Arak heavy-water production plant,” the Telegraph reported, in an exclusive release of the satellite images.

Water vapour is shown above Arak in the images, located in central Iran, reportedly indicating heavy-water production in the plant. Heavy water is “needed to operate a nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium, which could then be used to make a bomb,” the report noted.

International talks on Iran’s nuclear program have focused on the Islamic Republic’s attempts to enrich uranium at plants including at the Fordow plant, also in central Iran.

But Wednesday’s pictures show that the facilities could allow Iran to produce plutonium – another method which may lead to the development of a nuclear weapon.

Part of the Arak complex, the nuclear reactor, was opened to examination from inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the heavy-water plant remained inaccessible to the IAEA agents.

During the visit earlier this month of the Arak nuclear reactor, the inspectors noted that cooling and “moderator circuit” pipes at the reactor were “almost complete,” the Telegraph noted, while Iran told the IAEA that it will begin operating the reactor at Arak in the first three months of 2014.

“The steam indicates that the heavy-water plant is operational and the extent of the air defence emplacements around the site make it suspicious.” Stuart Ray of McKenzie Intelligence Services, a consultancy firm, told the Telegraph upon analyzing the images.

The report said the “IAEA has reached a similar conclusion,” when it reported “ongoing construction” at the Arak site and active heavy water production in a report last week.

Iran denies seeking atomic weapons but many in the international community suspect otherwise, and the U.N. Security Council has passed several resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear weapons power, has never ruled out attacking Iran’s nuclear sites and the diplomacy is essentially aimed at avoiding such an outcome which would send shock waves across the region.

The Jewish state launched a unilateral attack against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981 and has spoken of Iran approaching the same “red line” that demanded immediate action.

Iran already has a nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr -- built with Russian help -- but Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described atomic weapons as a “sin."