Iran may be able to begin producing weapons-grade plutonium by next summer at a separate nuclear facility, a development that surprised nuclear officials but might also provide an easier target for a potential attack on the Iranian nuclear program.
“It really crept up on us,” an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Vienna headquarters told the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran has made significant progress on the construction of a heavy water nuclear reactor that was started in 2004 in Arak in northwestern Iran. The reactor under construction is capable of producing uranium fuel. The “spent fuel” resulting from the process of a nuclear reaction contains small amounts of plutonium, which can be used for a nuclear bomb. Other countries such as North Korea, Pakistan and India have produced bombs from plutonium.
U.S. and United Nations officials believe that the Arak facility might be able to produce two plutonium bombs per year.
But according to analysts, the Arak facility may be an easier target for Israel or the U.S. since it is not underground, like Iran’s other facilities in Qom and Natanz.
“There’s no question that the reactor and its heavy water are more vulnerable targets than the enrichment plants,” Gary Samore, who served as President Barack Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues during his first term, told the Wall Street Journal.