Iran is building a new 40-megawatt thermal-cooled heavy water reactor in Arak. The heavy water program
has raised some questions regarding Iran‘s intentions. Iran first informed the IAEA that it was planning to
export heavy water, then they stated that the heavy water will be used as a coolant and moderator for the
planned IR-40 reactor for research and development, radio-isotope production and training.
It has been mentioned by some experts that the Iran IR-40 heavy water reactor could be operational by 2011
and would allow Iran to begin producing weapons-grade material by 2014.
Using the same basis and reactor operation factor of 0.6 as was done for the Israeli Dimona reactor, we find that the amount of Plutonium produced per year is up to 8 kg of weapons grade, enough for 1 nuclear bomb a year.
Light Water Reactors (1000 MW(t) Bushehr Light Water Reactor for Power Generation
In a study ‗A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation of Light Water Reactors‖ Victor Gilinsky, Marvin Miller, Harmon Hubbard, October 22, 2004. The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. They write the following:
The report details how fresh and spent LWR fuel can be used to accelerate a nation‘s illicit weapons program
significantly. In the case of a state that can enrich uranium (either covertly or commercially), fresh lightly enriched reactor fuel rods could be seized and the uranium oxide pellets they contain quickly crushed and fluoridated.
This lightly enriched uranium feed material, in turn, could enable a would-be bomb maker to produce a significant number of weapons with one-fifth the level of effort than what would otherwise be required to enrich the natural uranium to weapons grade.
As for spent LWR fuel, the report details how about a year after an LWR of the size Iran has was brought on line, as much as 60 Nagasaki bombs‘ worth of near-weapons grade material could be seized and the first bomb made in a matter of weeks. The report also details how the reliability of the bombs made of this material, moreover, is similar to that of devices made of pure weapons grade plutonium.
The running assumption today, of course, is that any nation diverting either the fresh or spent fuel from an LWR site would be detected by IAEA inspectors. This clearly is the premise of the deal the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia are making to Iran: Russia will provide Iran with fresh reactor fuel if Iran promises to suspend activities at its known uranium enrichment facilities and surrenders spent fuel from its LWR for transit and storage in Russia.
What‘s not fully appreciated, however, is that Iran might well be able to divert these materials to covert
enrichment or reprocessing plants and might well be able to do so without detection. Lengthy exposure to spent fuel that has just left an LWR of the sort required to package and ship long distances out of the country is quite hazardous.
If Iran was set on making bombs, though, it might be willing to take the risks associated with a much
shorter transit for quick reprocessing. The health hazards associated with diverting fresh LWR fuel, on
the other hand, are virtually nil.