Britain's The Telegraph has published images, taken earlier this month, that show that Iran
has activated the Arak
heavy-water production plant.
Heavy water is needed to operate a nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium,
which could then be used to make a bomb.
The images show signs of activity at the Arak plant, located 150 miles south-west of Tehran, including a cloud of steam that indicates heavy-water production.
Cloud of steam over Arak plant (Screenshot: The Telegraph)
Other images of the area show that numerous anti-aircraft missile and artillery sites protect the plant, more than are deployed around any other known nuclear site in the country.
The new images also show details of the underground Fordo
plant near the city of Qom.
According to The Telegraph, Western governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
have held information about activity at Arak for some time.
IAEA inspectors unable to visit Arak plant (Photo: GettyImages)
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official told the British newspaper that Arak could be part of a process that might trigger Western strikes on Iran.
“Some think Israel’s red line for military action is before Arak comes online," he said. "The option of a military strike on an operating reactor would present enormous complications because of the radiation that would be spread,” he warned.
IAEA inspectors have been trying to visit the facility since August 2011 and Iran has refused repeated requests for information about the site.
Ahmadinejad visits Arak reactor in 2006 (Photo: AP)
Some five months ago, western diplomats claimed that Iran has accelerated the construction of a nuclear reactor in Arak. Iran has previously told the IAEA that it will begin operating the reactor in the first three months of 2014 but it appears to have beat its own deadline.
The Telegraph’s images were analyzed by Stuart Ray of McKenzie Intelligence Services, a consultancy firm.
"The steam indicates that the heavy-water plant is operational and the extent of the air defense emplacements around the site make it suspicious,” he remarked.
According to the Institute for Science and International Security, if the reactor reaches full capacity, it would produce about 20lb of plutonium a year.
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