may be able to begin producing weapons-grade plutonium by next summer at a
separate nuclear facility, a development that surprised nuclear officials but might
also provide an easier target for a potential attack on the Iranian nuclear
The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in Iran. Credit: Nanking2012 via Wikimedia Commons.
“It really crept up on us,”
an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Vienna headquarters
told the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran has made significant progress on the
construction of a heavy water nuclear reactor that was started in 2004 in Arak
in northwestern Iran. The reactor under construction is capable of producing
uranium fuel. The “spent fuel” resulting from the process of a nuclear reaction
contains small amounts of plutonium, which can be used for a nuclear bomb. Other countries such as North Korea, Pakistan and India
have produced bombs from plutonium.
U.S. and United Nations officials believe
that the Arak facility might be able to produce two plutonium bombs per year.
But according to analysts, the Arak facility
may be an easier target for Israel or the U.S. since it is not underground,
like Iran’s other facilities in Qom and Natanz.
“There’s no question that
the reactor and its heavy water are more vulnerable targets than the enrichment
plants,” Gary Samore, who served as President Barack Obama’s top adviser on
nuclear issues during his first term, told the Wall Street Journal.