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Iran pledges 'redesign' of reactor ahead of talks

Iran says it will redesign the controversial Arak nuclear reactor while insisting it is only used for producing medical isotopes
Rouhani delivers a speech during at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AFP PHOTO / HO / PRESIDENCY WEBSITE)

Iran has begun “redesigning” the Arak research reactor to drastically cut its potential output of uranium, a senior Iranian official announced, as another round of talks over Iran’s nuclear programme are set to begin next week in Vienna.

The Arak power plant has been one of the most contentious issues during talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers that aim to reach a deal by late July on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran says that the reactor is designed to produce isotopes for use in cancer treatment and other medical applications, while America and Israel say it could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, told the stateIRNA news agency late on Wednesday that the  amount of plutonium the reactor will be able to yield will be reduced to less than 1 kg from 9-10 kg (20-22 pounds) annually in its original design.

“We are currently busy redesigning that reactor to arrange for that alteration,” he told IRNA.Experts say 9-10 kg would be enough for a nuclear bomb.

Breakout report

The Iranian government on Thursday released a report titled “How Long Would an Iranian ‘Breakout’ Really Take” looking at, for the first time, how long it would actually take the Iranians to a assemble a nuclear weapon.

The prediction, based on current infrastructure, is that would take “years” rather than months as Israeli and US officials have suggested.

The report is likely aimed at allaying international fears about the expediency of Iranian nuclear weapon production prior to the recommencation of P5+1 talks next week

Two American officials, deputy secretary of state William J Burns and and national security advisor Jake Sullivan met with their Iranian counterparts this week to try and make sure negotiations got back to reach a deal before a July 20 deadline.

The talks were described as “constructive” although no more information was given.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Thursday that if no deal was reached by the July deadline, then nuclear enrichment would continue as previously planned.

"We need hard work and wisdom and logic to overcome disagreements," Iran's Fars news agency reported him as saying.

"Iran will return to 20 percent enrichment if a deal cannot be reached ... failure to reach a deal will be a disaster for everyone," he added.

If an agreement is reached Iran expects to have international sanctions lifted, which have been crippling the country’s economy.