Iran FM says construction will continue at contested Arak nuclear reactor site, testing limits of deal

DUBAI -- Iran will press on with construction at a nuclear reactor site at Arak, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said on Wednesday, despite an agreement with Western powers to halt activity.

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The uncompleted heavy-water research reactor emerged as one of several crucial issues in negotiations in Geneva last week, when Iran agreed with six world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program for six months in return for limited sanctions relief.

Iran said it would not make “any further advances of its activities” on the Arak reactor, according to text of the agreement. However, the specific commitments made by Iran under the agreement do not ban construction work at Arak -- only work on any facility at the site intended for the reprocessing of radioactive fuel; the process which can yield plutonium.

The deal also prohibits Iran from producing or testing fuel for the reactor, or installing any additional reactor components at the site.

“The capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there,” Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.

“We will refrain from constructing new enrichment sites over the next six months, and the fact is the administration has had no such plans for the six-month period,” said Zarif.

But experts have said an apparent gap in the text could allow Tehran to build components off-site to install later in the nuclear reactor. It was not immediately clear if Zarif was referring to this or other construction activity.

Tehran has said it could open the reactor as soon as next year. It says its purpose is only to make medical isotopes, but Western countries say it could also produce plutonium, one of two materials, along with enriched uranium, that can be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear bomb.