A heavy water reactor in central Iran (search) should be able to produce enough plutonium (search) for a nuclear bomb by 2007 — years ahead of its official completion date, an exiled Iranian opposition group claimed Thursday.
The National Council of Resistance said the site near Arak (search) was already producing heavy water. Nuclear experts consider heavy water reactors a danger because they provide for a simpler way of producing bomb fuel than units using light water.
Mohammed Mohaddessin, head of the group's foreign affairs committee, said work on a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor is "near an end" and should be ready in 2006 or 2007. When that reactor is completed, the Arak facility will capable of producing up to 22 pounds of plutonium, enough for a nuclear bomb, he said.
Heavy water is used in nuclear power plants and can be used to produce plutonium for weapons.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) that the reactor near Arak would be finished in 2014.
"The Iranian regime is engaged in an all-out race against time" to finish construction, Mohaddessin told a news conference in Paris. The objective is "to obtain plutonium to build a nuclear bomb," he claimed.
Mohaddessin said sources inside the Arak facility were among those providing information.
In Vienna, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky confirmed that Tehran had given 2014 as the completion date for the reactor and had told the agency that Arak's "heavy water production facility ... would be operational in 2004."
The Iranians "indicated the reactor would be for research and development and the production of radio isotopes" for medical research, he said.
IAEA officials in early March said that Iran was continuing construction on the Arak reactor despite calls for scrapping the facility. At that time, a diplomat told The Associated Press that work on the reactor had progressed to the point where crews "were pouring the foundations."
Experts estimate that the Arak reactor can yield enough plutonium from its spent fuel for one bomb a year. Additionally the nearly 40 tons of uranium Iran partially processed as part of its now suspended enrichment program could yield up to five crude bombs.
The National Council of Resistance serves as the political arm for the Mujahedeen Khalq, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Some of the group's past information about Iran's nuclear program has proved accurate.
Europeans, who are in negotiations with Iran, had asked Tehran to stop construction and build a light water reactor instead. Iran refused.
The United States suspects Iran of using its once-covert nuclear program to produce weapons, which Tehran firmly denies. It claims the nuclear technology is for producing energy.
France, Britain and Germany are holding talks with Tehran in a bid to guarantee that nuclear weapons cannot be produced by Iran.
Under an agreement reached last year, Iran suspended its uranium enrichment program during talks about European economic, political and technological aid.
The European deal left Iran free to produce plutonium, which can also be used to build nuclear weapons.
Mohaddessin said the group's information confirms that the Iran issue should be put before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, as Washington earlier threatened.
Mohaddessin also cited a "confidential" Iranian parliamentary report dated February 2004 on Iran's nuclear activities, which he said he received Thursday, as evidence that Iran has covert motives for its nuclear program.
The report, as cited by Mohaddessin, says the majlis, or parliament, was not informed about the construction of nuclear sites at Arak or at Natanz or about the projects' budgets.
"This report clearly reveals Tehran's real intentions for its nuclear program, so much so that parliament is not aware and it is outside the budget," he said.
The National Council of Resistance played a major role more than two years ago in revealing to the world that Iran was running a secret uranium enrichment program.