Atomic power engineers in Iran have started redesigning a partly constructed reactor in the northwest city of Arak to limit the amount of plutonium it produces, the country’s top nuclear official said Wednesday, expressing hope that the change would help alleviate Western objections that the plutonium could be used in weapons.
The official, Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, did not specify how much plutonium would be produced under the redesign of the reactor, which officials have said was constructed for the peaceful purpose of creating medical isotopes. But in remarks reported by Iran’s state-run Press TV website, Mr. Salehi said experts at the facility had offered to “redesign the heart of the reactor in order to allay the concerns of some countries.”
Both plutonium and uranium can be used as the fuel of nuclear weapons.
The Arak reactor is one of the unresolved issues in talks between Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1 Group of countries, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — aimed at settling the longstanding dispute over Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Last year, negotiators reached a temporary accord that froze most of Iran’s uranium enrichment and other nuclear work in exchange for limited relief from Western economic sanctions, in hopes that the extra time would enable them to finalize a permanent agreement. Running out of time as a self-imposed July 20 deadline approached, they agreed to extend the negotiation for another four months.
Iran has insisted its nuclear development is for civilian use. The P5-plus-1 group has said it needs guarantees that Iran will not create nuclear weapons for an agreement to be reached.