Iran may have backup plan for nuclear bomb

A heavily guarded and active heavy water facility in Arak, Iran, is part of a plutonium production plant that may give Iran an alternate path to a potential nuclear weapon, according to recent reports.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have not been allowed to visit the heavy water plant since August 2011, though Western governments and the IAEA reportedly held information about activity at the facility for some time. Details of Iran's plutonium program emerged in the form of commercial satellite images as the world's leading nations discussed the country's nuclear ambitions with Tehran in Kazakhstan, the Telegraph reports.

Previous international talks on Iran's nuclear program focused on Tehran's attempts to enrich uranium. The new images of Arak, which were taken on February 9, demonstrate the progress Iran has made on facilities that could let it produce plutonium.

"The steam indicates that the heavy-water plant is operational and the extent of the air defense emplacements around the site make it suspicious," Stuart Ray, a consultant with McKenzie Intelligence Services, said, according to the Telegraph.

The facility consists of both a heavy water plant and a reactor. Unlike the heavy water plant, the reactor is open to examination by IAEA inspectors. Iran told the IAEA that it will start operating the Arak reactor in the first three months of 2014.

The Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S. think tank, said that if the heavy water plant reaches full capacity it would produce approximately 20 pounds of plutonium annually. If the plutonium was reprocessed, it could yield enough for two nuclear weapons, the Telegraph reports.