London: Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper has published satellite images that it says prove Iran is developing a second path to a nuclear weapons capability by operating a plant that could produce plutonium.
The images - commissioned by the Telegraph and taken as recently as February 9 - show steam rising at the heavily-guarded Arak heavy water production plant, about 240 kilometres south-west of the capital Tehran. International inspectors have been barred from the plant since August 2011.
The images emerged as the world's leading nations resumed talks with Iran aimed at allaying fears over the country's nuclear ambitions.
The new images also show details of the Fordo complex, concealed beneath a mountain near the holy city of Qom. At talks in Kazakhstan, world leaders offered to relax sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions over Fordo, where uranium is enriched and which is heavily protected from aerial attack.
Iran insists that its nuclear facilities are for peaceful use, but Western governments fear otherwise.
Other images of the area around Arak show that numerous anti-aircraft missile and artillery sites protect the plant - more than are deployed around any other known nuclear site in the country.
The Arak complex has two parts: the heavy water plant and a nuclear reactor. The reactor has been opened to examination by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran has told the agency the reactor will begin operating in the first three months of next year.
The country still lacks the technology to reprocess plutonium and use it for a weapon. But North Korea has successfully developed that technology, and some analysts speculate Iran could look to Pyongyang for assistance.
A former US State Department official, Mark Fitzpatrick, suggested developments at Arak might trigger Western strikes on Iran before plutonium reprocessing began, since any later attack would risk the spread of radiation.
''Some think Israel's red line for military action is before Arak comes online,'' he said.
Western intelligence agencies have made covert attempts to set back the Iranian nuclear program through sabotage.
The cyber security company Symantec said on Tuesday that it had uncovered evidence that Stuxnet, the name researchers have given to sabotage software reportedly developed by the US and Israel, was being developed as early as 2005.
Stuxnet destroyed nearly 1000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.
Telegraph, London; Washington Post
The story New nuclear concern over Iran as satellite images expose plant first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.