Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak
Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak. Photo by AP /ISNA,Hamid Foroutan
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Iran has invited UN inspectors to visit the nuclear-related heavy water facility in Arak on December 8, their chief said on Thursday, a first concrete step under a plan to clarify concerns about Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said the watchdog was looking into how Sunday's agreement between Iran and six world powers to curb the country's atomic activity could be "put into practice" concerning the UN agency's role in verifying the deal.

"This will include the implications for funding and staffing," Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation board. "This analysis will take some time."

The IAEA's visit to the heavy water production plant is part of a separate agreement signed this month between the UN agency and Iran, unrelated to the interim deal signed between Iran and the six world powers last week, according to which sanctions on Iran will be eased in return for a halt in its nuclear program.

UN inspectors have not been to Arak since August 2011, despite repeated requests. But Iran agreed on November 11 to grant access to this site and to a uranium mine within three months. The IAEA needs to visit such places as part of its mandate to ensure that a country's nuclear program is peaceful.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif raised international controversy by saying Iran will press on with construction at the nuclear reactor in Arak, despite the fact that the agreement clearly states that Iran will not make "any further advances of its activities" there.

"The capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told the Iranian parliament.

Experts have said an apparent gap in the text could allow Tehran to build components off-site to install later in the nuclear reactor. It was not immediately clear if Zarif was referring to this or other construction activity.

Tehran has said it could open the reactor as soon as next year. It says its purpose is only to make medical isotopes, but Western countries say it could also produce plutonium, one of two materials, along with enriched uranium, that can be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear bomb.

France, one of the six powers that negotiated Sunday's landmark initial accord with Iran to curb its disputed nuclear program, said in response to Zarif's statement that Tehran had to stick to what was agreed in the Geneva talks.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she isn't sure what work Zarif meant, but that road or building construction might be allowable.

Nuclear fuel production, reactor work, testing, control systems advances and other activities aren't permissible, she said. 

Low-grade uranium

The head of Iran's nuclear department said on Thursday that Iran plans to increase its production of uranium enriched at a low level.

Ali Akbar Salehi said machines which were earlier producing 20 percent enriched uranium will be engaged in producing low-level enriched uranium, IRNA reported.

"Hence, the production of five percent enriched uranium will increase," Salehi was quoted as saying. Iran's nuclear facilities will continue their work, Salehi said, and "only production of 20 percent enriched uranium will halt."

As part of the deal reached between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva last week, Iran committed not to enrich uranium to levels exceeding five percent. Under the deal, sanctions on Iran will be eased in return for a halt in its nuclear program.