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Iran Offers to Redesign Arak Nuclear Reactor

A welder works in 2004 at Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor facility. An Iranian official said Tehran would revamp the reactor to decrease its plutonium output. A welder works in 2004 at Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor facility. An Iranian official said Tehran would revamp the reactor to decrease its plutonium output. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

An Iranian official on Saturday said Tehran would redesign its disputed Arak reactor to produce far less bomb-usable plutonium, the Associated Press reports.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said the plan would reduce the unfinished heavy-water site's projected plutonium output to roughly one-fifth of its current designed level, according to the AP article. The news service described the offer to six negotiating governments as a significant step in addressing Western fears that Iran's nuclear work is geared toward development of a nuclear-arms capability.

"The issue of [the] heavy-water reactor ... has been virtually resolved," Salehi told al-Alam television. "Iran has offered a proposal to ... redesign the heart of the Arak facility and these six countries have agreed to that."

Salehi said Tehran rejected a call by the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany to replace the Arak system with a light-water reactor. Such a reactor, he said, would not serve the same purpose of generating medical isotopes.

Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful, separately demanded permission to gradually increase its uranium-enrichment capacity under a potential nuclear agreement, Agence-France Presse reported. Tehran is seeking sanctions relief in exchange for possible long-term limits on some of its atomic efforts.

The Persian Gulf nation would retain 20,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges "for four or five years," Salehi said. "After that, we will gradually increase them to reach a capacity of enriching 30 tons of uranium per year."

Salehi did not specify how other negotiating states reacted to the idea, according to AFP. Washington and its allies have sought curbs on Iran's uranium-enrichment capabilities, which can produce both reactor fuel and weapon material.

Iran and the six negotiating countries -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- plan at a May 5-9 gathering to begin writing the preliminary text of a potential atomic accord, Reuters quoted Iranian state media as saying on Sunday.

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This article provides an overview of Iran's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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