Iran nuclear talks: the key sites
Three key nuclear sites in Iran will be in focus in talks this week in Geneva with world powers: the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo, and a reactor being built at Arak.
About 250 kilometres (150 miles) south of Tehran, this is Iran’s heavily bunkered main uranium enrichment site. At last count it had 17,000 centrifuges, including 1,000 modern IR-2M models, but has a capacity of about 50,000 machines.
First revealed by an Iranian exile group in 2002 and declared by Iran in 2003, it mostly enriches uranium up to five percent purities for the BUSHEHR in southern Iran, the country’s only functioning nuclear power plant, and also to 20 percent. The site is of concern because it could be used to further enrich to weapons-grade.
Built under a mountain near the holy central city of Qom and first publicly revealed by Western countries in 2009, Fordo began operating in December 2011. It is a worry because it enriches uranium to 20 percent, close to weapons-grade.
Iran says Fordo is to provide fuel for reactors making nuclear medicines, and half of the material produced so far has been further processed for this purpose. Only around a quarter of its almost 3,000 installed centrifuges are operating.
The heavy water IR-40 reactor being built at Arak, 240 kilometres south-west of Tehran, could in theory provide Iran with plutonium, the alternative to highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, by extracting it from spent fuel rods. Iran denies this is its aim.
The start date for the reactor is unclear, with experts saying 2014 is ambitious. It will have to be operational for at least a year before plutonium could be extracted, and Iran has no declared reprocessing facility to do so.
Other sites of interest include PARCHIN, a military base near Tehran where the UN atomic agency suspects explosives tests took place that are “strong indicators of possible nuclear weapon development”; the GACHIN uranium mine close to the Strait of Hormuz in the south; and the ISFAHAN uranium conversion plant, 350 kilometres south of Tehran.