Iran has invited UN inspectors to visit its unfinished Arak heavy-water production plant under an international cooperation pact. This comes as a deadly earthquake hits Iran near its nuclear reactor in Bushehr.
The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, said in Vienna Thursday that inspectors have been given permission to visit the previously off-limits plant, which makes coolant for a nearby reactor that is still under construction.
The news of the visit, scheduled for December 8, comes less than a week after Iran signed a landmark nuclear deal with six world powers. Under the deal, Iran is to halt or curb parts of its nuclear program, as well as provide more information on it, in exchange for an easing of the crippling international sanctions that have devastated its economy.
The Arak plant, which is located 250 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Tehran, was a major sticking point during the negotiations last week in Geneva. When completed, it could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, though Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, scientific purposes.
'Complicated task' for IAEA
With the increased inspections and monitoring, expected to start in January, that come as part of the nuclear deal, the IAEA says it must examine how to manage the process with a limited budget.
"Naturally this requires a significant amount of money and manpower … I don't think we can cover everything by our own budget," said Amano. He added that the process of verifying Iran's compliance with the deal was a "complicated task" for which the IAEA was not yet ready.
"We need to study the agreement and we have to identify the ways in which the elements relevant to the IAEA be put into practice," said Amano. "It will take time because it is quite a complicated task and we would like to properly prepare and do the job properly … I cannot tell when we will be ready."
Earthquake near Bushehr plant
Meanwhile, in Iran on Thursday, an earthquake hit the southern coastal region of Bushehr near the Bushehr nuclear power station, killing at least seven people, according to state media. Thirty more were reported to have been injured amid massive damage.
The IRNA news agency said residents had fled their homes in panic as several aftershocks hit the region.
The US Geological Survey reported the 5.6 magnitude quake hitting some 14 kilometers northeast of Borazjan town, which is around 48 kilometers north of the port city of Bushehr.
Iran lies on several seismic fault lines. A 6.1-magnitude quake near Bushehr in April killed 37 people, but did not damage the nuclear plant. In 2003, a massive quake in the southern city of Bam killed 26,000 people.
dr/tj (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)