IAEA inspectors make initial visit to Iran

December 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

ALISON STEWART: And now we return to Iran, where, today, UN inspectors visited a site used to produce plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon.

For more about this, we are joined from Washington by David Albright. He is a physicist and is founder and president of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security. He is a leading expert on Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Albright, the inspectors today are visiting a heavy water production plant.  What are they looking for specifically at this plant?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well this is a visit by the inspectors so they are looking for very simple things. Is the plant operational? How much heavy water has it produced? They’ll try to find out what it’s purpose is, I imagine. Iran has already said it’s made enough heavy water for the adjacent heavy-water production plant. So is it going to export it? Is it planning to build more heavy-water reactors?  It’s also. the heavy water production plant is part of the two facilities, including the reactor,  that the UN Security Council resolutions have asked to have their operations suspended. What that means is that this plant is also on the list of plants that the United States is likely going to want to see shut down if there is a final deal with Iran.  And this kind of visit creates a baseline of what’s going on there and will help establish is that plant is actually needed. 

ALISON STEWART: Today is a one-day event at one place. How many inspections will actually take place?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: For the agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency this is just a small, albeit important, step. They are going to have to visit military-related sites that have been linked to past and possibly ongoing nuclear weapons work. The Parchin site has a facility that’s linked to old work on nuclear weapons and the IAEA has asked to go there for over 18 months and been denied.  And in that period of denial, Iran has essentially rebuilt the site and its going to make the IAEA’s job harder to verify what happened there in the past. That means the IAEA are going to want to talk to people.  They are going to want to go to other sites linked to nuclear weapons allegations so it’s going to be a long, difficult process.  And it’s going to depend very much on if Iran is going to be cooperating with the inspectors.

ALISON STEWART: What is the likelihood that Iran is concealing it’s nuclear program?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well I think it hasn’t done a very good job.  The evidence gathered by many members states is that they had a nuclear weapons in the past and parts of it may have continued. The problem has been that Iran absolutely denied it. They call the information fabricated, misinterpreted, and has taken the position that they have never had a nuclear weapons program. So I think the evidence is pretty good that Iran is going to have to change its approach and start to address the IAEA’s concerns. Now it can do it in secret. This doesn’t have to be a public discussion. They are many ways for Iran in essence to come clean and put to rest these IAEA concerns but it can’t escape it. It’s going to have to address the IAEA’s concerns and the recent joint plan of action, negotiated between the P5 and Iran reiterates that the IAEA’s concerns are going to have to be addressed if there ever is going to be a final deal. 

ALISON STEWART: How  much is today’s inspection a gesture or a test of Iran’s cooperation going forward?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think its a good gesture by Iran. I mean they haven’t allowed the inspectors into the plants since 2011, the inspection before that was 2005. So I think it’s a good gesture by Iran and it sets up a what you have to look at as a very difficult process but a very positive process. And that Iran appears to be willing to open up. It’s going to be sorely tested in the next several months but you have to view today’s success as giving hope for the future. 

ALISON STEWART: David Albright thank you so much.