Last updated: 17 January, 2014

Iran says UN experts to inspect Gachin mine this month

UN nuclear experts are to inspect Iran’s Gachin uranium mine later this month for the first time in almost nine years, its Atomic Energy Organisation said on Friday.

“The inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency will travel to Tehran on January 29 to visit Gachin mine,” AEO spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

Iran agreed a framework deal with the UN nuclear watchdog in November that includes six steps Tehran must carry out by February 11.

“The agenda for negotiations between Iran and the IAEA which will take place on February 8 on how to implement the second phase is not clear yet,” Kamalvandi said.

As part of the first phase of the deal, UN experts visited the heavy water plant at the unfinished Arak reactor on December 8, when all of the IAEA’s “technical objectives” were met, the Vienna-based agency said.

At least a year from completion, the Arak reactor is a major source of concern for Western powers, who fear the plutonium it will produce as a by-product could provide Iran with an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

The November deal also allows UN experts to visit the Gachin uranium mine in southern Iran — which has been off-limits to IAEA inspections since 2005.

“For Gachin… the IAEA wants to have as accurate a picture as possible of how much uranium feedstock it has,” Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP.

Hibbs said there were some question about “who has managed the operation and to whom they reported”.

In November, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said the “six-step annex” deal signed with the IAEA was a show of Tehran’s good will.

“The visit to Gachin is therefore to some extent a confidence building measure toward what the IAEA hopes would be the eventual ratification and implementation of Iran’s additional protocol,” said Hibbs.

The additional protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provides for snap inspections of nuclear facilities by the IAEA and requires that information be provided on all activities regarding the nuclear fuel cycle.

Iran is a signatory of the NPT and voluntarily implemented the additional protocol between 2003 and 2006, but ceased applying it after its nuclear programme was referred to the UN Security Council.

As it stands, Iran is only obliged to inform the IAEA three months before it transfers fissile material into a nuclear facility.

Another analyst, Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said he foresaw no shock discoveries from the Gachin visit.

“There are no grounds for suspicion that anything worrisome is taking place at Gachin,” he said.

“Applying safeguards to the mine will help the IAEA confirm the absence of a secret enrichment path, which would have to start with obtaining uranium ore.”