Iran has begun to design its first nuclear-powered submarine, the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency has reported, ahead of a third round of negotiations over its nuclear programme taking place in Moscow next week. This could possibly provide Tehran with justification in the future for producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
The US, Israel and the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) have long been concerned that Iran would seek such an explanation to enrich uranium above the weapons-grade level of 90 per cent purity. Iran claims it is currently enriching uranium to a level of 19.75 per cent purity to run a research reactor in Tehran, but the scale of their enrichment far exceeds that reactor’s requirements. Nuclear submarines are powered by fuel ranging from 20 per cent purity to more than 90 per cent. Many US submarines use nuclear fuel enriched to 96 per cent.
On Tuesday, a senior Iranian naval official told state media that his country had already begun the process. “Right now, we are in the initial phases of manufacturing atomic submarines,” the deputy commander of the Iranian navy for technical affairs, Rear Adm. Abbas Zamini, said. The claim is highly dubious, as only the US, China, Russia and a handful of other countries have the ability to independently build nuclear-powered submarines. Currently Iran has no tradition of manufacturing their own submarines, aside from around a dozen mine-laying miniature vessels.
In related news yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said world powers will outline a “very clear path” to resolve the impasse over Iran’s nuclear programme at talks in Moscow next week, speaking during a joint appearance with Israel’s president Shimon Peres. ”There is a unified position being presented by the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany] that gives Iran, if it is interested in taking a diplomatic way out, a very clear path that would be verifiable and would be linked to action for action,” Clinton said.
The talks are expected to focus on an initial international proposal for Iran to cease its production of 20% enriched uranium. The global powers are also seeking to Tehran’s agreement to ship out its stockpile of higher enriched uranium and to close their underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom. In return they are willing to offer confidence-building measures including cooperation on civil nuclear issues and civil aviation.