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Iran Atomic Primer

Iran Atomic Primer

* Iran says it wants to build nuclear power plants so it can maximize exports from oil and gas reserves, the world's second largest.

* The IAEA says it cannot verify that Iran's program is wholly peaceful, nor that no clandestine, bomb-oriented work is going on somewhere, because Iran does not permit snap inspections anywhere beyond the declared sites.

* Iran insists it gives the IAEA appropriate access and notes that inspectors, after five years of sleuthing, have found no proof of a nuclear weapons program. U.S. intelligence services said Iran halted an outright nuclear weapons drive in 2003 but continues to develop relevant enrichment technology.

* Russia is working to complete Iran's first, and so far only, nuclear power plant, begun before the 1979 Islamic revolution, at Bushehr on its southwestern Gulf coast. It is designed to run only on Russian-produced fuel, according to a senior Western official in the Middle East.

* In 2002, an exiled Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of the underground Natanz facility in central Iran to enrich uranium, a process that can yield fuel for power stations or, if highly refined, material for nuclear warheads.


* Construction of two pressurized water nuclear reactors began in 1974 with German and French help. The two complexes were partially built before the 1979 revolution, when Western partners withdrew and the project was frozen.

* A Russian contract to resume construction was signed in 1995. Iran says Bushehr will be part of a power plant network planned to produce 20,000 megawatts by 2020. It says it intends to launch test runs at Bushehr this year.


* Iran's uranium ore processing plant at Isfahan, some 400 km (250 miles) south of Tehran, converts the mineral into hexafluoride gas, the form that is fed into centrifuge machines for enrichment into nuclear fuel.

* A nuclear technology and research centre in Isfahan is Iran's largest, employing up to 3,000 scientists.

* The processing site is under regular inspection by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.


* In the desert 230 kilometers south of Tehran, a vast subterranean hall contains some 3,600 centrifuges enriching uranium, more than 10 times the number spinning two years ago. Output remains well below industrial capacity -- making fuel in usable quantities -- but is gradually rising.

* Nearby is the above-ground pilot wing of Natanz where Iran is testing advanced models of centrifuges able to refine uranium 2-3 times faster than its current 1970s-era model. Iran aims eventually to operate more than 50,000 centrifuges in the underground plant to achieve industrial-scale enrichment.

* The Natanz complex is under IAEA monitoring.


* In 2006, Iran began work on a heavy-water production plant near Arak 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran. Western officials suspect Iran will covertly use spent fuel to make bomb-grade plutonium at a nearby reactor due for completion in 2009. Iran denies this, saying the Arak complex will only produce isotopes for medical and agricultural ends.

-- Reuters