Reuters: The nuclear technology the European Union has offered Iran could help it make an atomic bomb, not prevent it,
a Washington-based think-tank warned.
The EU's "Big Three" -- France, Britain and Germany -- have offered Iran reactor fuel and help developing light-water reactor (LWR) technology if Tehran stops uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make nuclear arms. Reuters

By Louis Charbonneau

VIENNA - The nuclear technology the European Union has offered Iran could help it make an atomic bomb, not prevent it, a Washington-based think-tank warned.

The EU's "Big Three" -- France, Britain and Germany -- have offered Iran reactor fuel and help developing light-water reactor (LWR) technology if Tehran stops uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make nuclear arms.

"LWRs no longer should be considered to be safe for any nation that might divert the reactor's fresh lightly-enriched fuel or the plutonium-laden spent fuel to make bombs," Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), wrote in the introduction to a 62-page report.

Sokolski, a former U.S. Pentagon official, said the report was prepared by "national authorities on nuclear chemistry, commercial nuclear power reactors, and nuclear weapons designs".

The United States believes Iran's nuclear programme is a front to make atomic weapons and has criticised the EU trio and Russia for engaging Iran on the issue. Instead it wants Tehran reported to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran says it needs nuclear reactors to generate electricity and strongly denies it is trying to develop an atomic arsenal.

HIDE AND SEEK

LWRs use low-enriched uranium. Although this cannot be used to fuel uranium-based weapons, which need very highly-enriched uranium, the used fuel contains bomb-grade plutonium, which can be separated from the other chemicals and used in weapons.

Sokolski said the EU was wrong to assume that such activities could not be hidden from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran hid its nuclear programme from the IAEA for nearly two decades.

"Nations can chemically separate out -- reprocess -- the plutonium contained in spent reactor fuel in relatively affordable facilities that can be quite small, as little as 65 feet square, and therefore be easily hidden," Sokolski said.

The IAEA was not immediately available for comment.

The EU offer was an attempt to avoid reporting Iran to the Security Council after a IAEA meeting at the end of November.

Tehran rejected the offer, saying it will not give up its enrichment programme, but officials from Iran and the EU's "Big Three" will still meet on Wednesday to discuss the offer.

Sokolski said under present IAEA inspection procedures, a country determined to divert fuel for weapons had ample opportunities to do so.

He said the IAEA does not conduct real-time camera monitoring of fresh or spent fuel storage sites, but reviews tapes every 90 days. The IAEA plans to extend the review interval to one year from 90 days were unwise, Sokolski added.

"The IAEA should tighten its rules and inspections (and) instead of extending the interval in between reviewing camera tapes of fresh and spent fuel storage sites, the IAEA should move toward real-time surveillance," he said.