Iran to allow IAEA inspectors into Arak nuclear facility

Iran, continuing its attempts to return to international society, has opened up more of its nuclear facilities to inspectors' eyes, as it today invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to previously off-limits facilities – particularly the its Arak heavy-water reactor - on 8 December.

Arak Heavy Water4Iran's IR-40 is a 40 megawatt heavy water nuclear reactor, located at Arak is expected to produce from 10 kilograms to 12 kilograms  of plutonium a year within its spent nuclear fuel.

In a statement, IAEA head Yukiya Amano said Iran has invited experts from the UN nuclear watchdog to inspect the facility linked to a reactor that could produce enough plutonium for up to two atomic weapons a year if completed.

Over the weekend, Iran and six world powers, including the United States, reached an interim deal under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lighter economic sanctions.

As part of the six-month deal, Iran is required to dilute its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, halt all enrichment above 5 per cent, and dismantle the technical equipment required for enrichment.

It also agreed to freeze essential work on the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, southwest of Tehran.

IAEA staff has had some access to the reactor; but they have not been able to inspect the heavy water plant since 2011. Heavy water helps control nuclear activity of some reactors' fuel rods.

The heavy-water reactor has been of concern to international powers because that facility could be used as a source of plutonium - a second pathway to a potential nuclear bomb apart from uranium.

 Iran is expected to provide daily access to inspectors from the IAEA. The inspectors will visit centrifuge assembly and storage facilities and uranium mills, as well as the Arak site.

Iran insists it's enriching uranium and building nuclear reactors only for peaceful civilian energy needs.

The IAEA has been following a parallel but separate track to the six world powers in negotiations with Iran.

The nuclear watchdog and Tehran agreed on a framework for further cooperation earlier this month, and the IAEA said then that its inspectors would carry out a technical visit to the Arak plant "in the near future."

Iran has previously allowed IAEA inspectors access to the heavy-water reactor at Arak, said Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, so the latest visit is a "welcome step" in terms of increased transparency but may not reveal much that's new.