July 13, 2007

Iran To Allow Inspection Of Arak Reactor

The Iranians will allow the IAEA to inspect its heavy-water plant in Arak, apparently intending to forestall another round of economic and diplomatic sanctions. The inspectors will check to see if the Iranians are producing and storing plutonium, which would give them another means of producing nuclear weapons besides their uranium-enrichment cascades:

Iran has agreed to let inspectors visit this month a nuclear reactor being built which could produce plutonium, the UN nuclear watchdog has said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced a delegation would visit the Arak heavy water reactor following two days of talks in Tehran.

Heavy-water reactors produce plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons as an alternative to enriched uranium.

Perhaps CQ readers can help here. The normal output of a heavy-water reactor produces plutonium -- so what do IAEA inspections gain? It doesn't sound like the Iranians risk much by having IAEA inspectors come through the reactor, nor does it appear that the IAEA gains anything at all.

Of course, the Iranians have an explanation for why they need the heavy water. They want to have Iranians drink it to cure cancer and AIDS. An Iranian nuclear-program official gave a tortured explanation of this almost a year ago:

Mohammad Sa'idi: One of the products of heavy water is depleted deuterium. As you know, in an environment with depleted deuterium, the reception of cancer cells and of the AIDS viruses is disrupted. Since this reception is disrupted, the cells are gradually expelled from the body. Obviously, one glass of depleted deuterium will not expel or cure the cancer or eliminate the AIDS. We are talking about a certain period of time. In many countries that deal with these diseases, patients use this kind of water instead of regular water, and consume it daily in order to heal their diseases.

In other words, the issue of heavy water has to do with matters of life and death, in many cases. One of the reasons that led us to produce heavy water was to use it for agricultural... medical purposes, and especially for industrial purposes in our country.

Perhaps the Iranians plan to show the IAEA how this works by having people drink the output of Arak. If so, the IAEA should insist that the test group includes Mohammed Sa'idi and Ari Larijani.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (15)

Posted by Michael Smith | July 13, 2007 6:16 AM

News Flash:

After months of negotiations, the Mafia has agreed to let the police department inspect one of its wharehouses for evidence of stolen goods, drug smuggling, etc. Police have long suspected the Mafia of such activities and are pleased that they will now be allowed to inspect one Mafia property to prove their case. A spokesman for the Mafia said the agreement to allow this inspection proves the Mafia's peaceful intentions.

End of Story

Posted by Realist | July 13, 2007 6:21 AM

The heavy water (deuterium oxide) is used as the neutron moderator in sustaining the fision reaction in the reactor. The reactor does not produce the heavy water.

The plutonium is produced because the neutrons produced in the fission of U235 are slowed ("moderated") to a speed/energy appropriate to capture w/o fission and thus production of plutonium.

As far as I know, there is no such thing as "depleted deuterium". The deuterium nucleus consists of one proton and one neutron.

Plutonium is seperated chemically from the used reactor fuel.

Posted by Dishman [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 13, 2007 6:46 AM

Realist has it right.

It could be that they're talking about having people drink the portion of D2O that has been changed by the reactor. That result would be Tritium Oxide. Consumed in quantity, it will cure AIDS, as well as any other mortal condition.

Posted by Bill | July 13, 2007 7:18 AM

Nuke engr here. No such thing as depleted deuterium. That explanation is totally bogus.

Heavy water is not needed to make plutonium. Pu is created in ALL reactors with uranium in them (which is nearly all of them). What is important is how you run them. Pu239, which is what you want if you wish to build a bomb, is created directly from the uranium. However, it will absorb neutrons if left in the reactor for a long period of time, creating Pu240 or Pu241, which one does not want for bombs.
The point is that heavy water is not necessary to make Pu (both us and the Soviets have used carbon moderated reactors). Running large reactors for short periods of time and refuelling is the tipoff.

Posted by Jim C | July 13, 2007 7:39 AM

Maybe they can get old beady eyes Ahmadinijad to drink a glass or two.

Jim C

Posted by haroldmcintyre | July 13, 2007 8:20 AM

I have worked at a Canadian heavy water reactor all my adult life. Heavy water or deuterium or D2O, is not radioactive but is used as both the neutron moderator and the heat transport medium in our system. It becomes radioactive in the neuton medium by absorbing free neutons and becoming titium (T2O or TDO) in the reactor.
Heavy water or D2O can be quite leathal if consumed in small quantities. Because water is distributed throughout the body, heavy water slows down normal body processes and would cause death with the consumption of just a few hundred milliliters, about the amount in a can of pop. The amount would depend, to some extent, on body size but I think we can safely assume this is not the drink of the intellectually gifted.
This is another example of the nonsense being sold by the Iran about its nuclear program.

Posted by DaveK | July 13, 2007 9:05 AM

Perhaps this is the koolaid that they want the Iranian people to drink. It might be a little slower than the Jonestown variety, but the results might be about the same. But will the leaders drink it too?

Just my $.02

Posted by daytrader | July 13, 2007 9:21 AM


Here is a good article on the history and use of the Arak facility. 

Posted by daytrader | July 13, 2007 9:27 AM

This quote from the above linked article

The five year construction period for the reactor is consistent with the five year production period of the heavy water plant. The reactor will require 80-90 tons of heavy water, and the two production lines at Arak will together produce about 16 tons of heavy water every year.

The amount of plutonium a 40MW(th) reactor could produce each year would depend on the reactor's "capacity factor" -- the percentage of time that they are actually operating. This could range from 60 percent to up to 85 percent. A capacity factor of 60% would yield about 9 kilograms each year, while a 90% capacity factor would yield 12.5 kilograms of plutonium each year. A single nuclear weapon might require 4 or 5 kilograms of plutonium, so the reactor could produce two or three atomic bombs each year.

But remember this is the facility that makes the heavy water which is used in another reactor to produce the plutonium.

Posted by Cernig | July 13, 2007 9:32 AM

Uh ed?

It looks like the folks at MEMRI mistranslated. the words are in the wrong order. The correct phrase is "Duterium Depleted Water". Here's a link:


I've no idea if it's a kooky treatment idea or not, but it is real.

Regards, C

Posted by Bob | July 13, 2007 9:46 AM

"Heavy water or D2O can be quite leathal if consumed in small quantities. Because water is distributed throughout the body, heavy water slows down normal body processes and would cause death with the consumption of just a few hundred milliliters, about the amount in a can of pop. The amount would depend, to some extent, on body size but I think we can safely assume this is not the drink of the intellectually gifted."

I agree with the effects, which also include dehydration through reduced uptake by the body and diarrhea, but the quantity required is considerable. The water mass of the human body would have to be replaced at least 50% with heavy water before cell damage would occur.

A soda can's worth of D2O would probably produce a mean case of the squirts, but not death nor any long-term health issues.

And it certainly won't cure cancer or prevent HIV/AIDS.

Every day I feel smarter. Cardboard biscuits in China, miracle cures from Iran.

Why are we afraid of these people, and why do we give them any respect? Is Baghdad Bob now working in Iran?

Posted by unclesmrgol | July 13, 2007 12:25 PM

haroldmcintyre has said what needs to be said on the subject.

The wikipedia article on "heavy water" indicates that more than a can of soda pop is needed for lethal effect (the article indicates replacement of approximately 50-70% of the body's water), but the content of the article more than justifies harold's view of its overall toxicity. The area in the wikipedia article titled "effect on biological systems" is certainly worth the read. Upsets cellular reproduction; seeds won't grow in it. Wow. And the Iranians are planning on selling it by the bottle?

Posted by NullSet | July 13, 2007 2:55 PM

Concur with fellow nukes above on D2O nonsense, and the physics of Pu production.

One other thing that should make people go "hmmmm": With a heavy water reactor, natural (non-enriched) uranium can be used as fuel. For light water reactors, enriched U235 (>3%) is used in the fuel matrix (UO2/ceramic) for maintaining criticality.

So why enrich U235 if they're planning an HWR?

And for getting a reactor online as quickly as possible with no enrichment phase, and thus, reduced fuel fabrication time, the Iranians have made a logical choice for an HWR. The kicker will be to see if they will be geared for separating the Pu239 from the spent fuel.

If I were them, I'd keep this capability well concealed, with minimal documentation as possible. Those inspectors better know how to dig.

Posted by Cernig | July 14, 2007 1:19 AM

Sheesh, can no-one around here read or is it just that what doesn't fit the narrative fits into some blindspot instead?

"Duterium Depleted Water". As in its had a lot of the deuterium removed, for instance because its what is left behind after making heavy water. So no, it won't poison you. Read the link.

Posted by Rick Skeean | July 14, 2007 1:19 PM

I suspect a lot of the confusion results from a combination of deliberate obfuscation, language difficulties, and reporter ignorance.
That being said, I see no value in letting inspectors see the facility. It will definitely produce plutonium, and looking at the output will tell us nothing we didn't know already.
The Iranians may be pursuing this (heavy water) route as a backup in case enrichment can't be scaled up.Either heavy water or pure carbon will allow one to run a reactor on unenriched uranium, but I think it is harder to do with carbon, and maybe impossible unless high purity carbon is available. A common impurity in carbon is boron, an excellent neutron absorber.