The Tehran Research Reactor and Iran's Secret Enrichment Plant at Qom

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What about fuel for the Tehran research reactor?

  • This issue concerns a small research reactor in Tehran making medical isotopes, installed by the Americans many years ago. This is running low on fuel which has previously been provided from abroad. The US, Russia and France proposed taking Iran’s stock of low-enriched (3.5%) uranium out of the country and return it as higher-enriched (20%) fuel rods. The idea was to get the low-enriched stock abroad and prevent it from being potentially used for a nuclear device.

  • On 17 May 2010 it was announced in Tehran that, after talks with Turkey and Brazil, Iran had agreed to ship low-enriched uranium to Turkey. However, Iran also said it would continue to enrich other uranium to 20%. Western governments rejected the deal and said it did not solve the basic enrichment issue.

What about Iran’s secret enrichment plant at Qom?

A new and previously secret enrichment plant being built underground near Qom was revealed in 2009. The IAEA said it should have been declared much earlier and is demanding that construction stop. Iran says it broke no rules - there is a dispute about its obligations to the IAEA - and states that it is constructing the plant - in a mountain - in order to safeguard its technology from an air attack. The IAEA has since inspected the plant and says that it will have room to house 3,000 centrifuges.

Doesn’t the Non-Aligned Movement support Iran?

The NAM, representing 120 nations, issued a statement in July 2008 supporting Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear power. Iran said this reflected international support for its position. The statement did not directly criticise UN sanctions against Iran, though it said that any issues should be dealt within the IAEA. It also appeared to accept that there are some problems remaining when it said: “Diplomacy and dialogue through peaceful means must continue to find a comprehensive and long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Don’t existing nuclear powers have obligations to get rid of their weapons under the NPT?

Article VI commits them to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. The nuclear powers claim they have done this by reducing their warheads, but critics say they have not really moved towards nuclear disarmament. Critics also argue that the US and UK have broken the treaty by transferring nuclear technology from one to another. The US and UK say that this is not affected by the NPT.

Doesn’t Israel have a nuclear bomb?

  • Yes. Israel, however, is not a party to the NPT, so is not obliged to report to it. Neither are India or Pakistan, both of which have developed nuclear weapons. North Korea has left the treaty and has announced that it has acquired a nuclear weapons capacity.

  • On 18 September 2009, the IAEA called on Israel to join the NPT and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. The resolution said that the IAEA “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities, and calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards... “

  • Israel refuses to join the NPT or allow inspections. It is reckoned to have up to 400 warheads but refuses to confirm or deny this.

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