Capacity up at Iran nuclear site, IAEA says
VIENNA — Iran has completed its second uranium enrichment plant, tripling the speed at which it could produce material for nuclear arms, a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency showed Friday.
IAEA director general Yukiya Amano also stressed in the report that Iran continues to block access to sites, experts and documents that are linked to alleged nuclear weapons development projects.
Amano wrote that Iran has installed the remaining 644 centrifuge machines at the underground Fordo site since August. The new machines at this second enrichment site besides Natanz are not operating yet.
Western countries are concerned that the uranium being enriched to a level of 20 percent at Fordo could be quickly processed further and turned into nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders deny that they seek nuclear weapons.
Western diplomats say that Iran would need around 250 kilograms of 20 percent material for one bomb. The Islamic republic currently has a stockpile of 135 kilograms and has been producing 15 additional kilograms per month.
If the Fordow plant were configured to enrich to 20 percent, Iran could turn out a total of 45 kilograms per month, the report showed. Currently, the IAEA does not know at what level the site will operate.
Iran has turned considerable amounts of uranium into fuel for a research reactor, making it more difficult to turn it into weapons.
Israeli leaders have noted this development and have hinted that they have postponed considering an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.
However, the IAEA report showed that the rate at which Iran is turning 20 percent uranium into reactor fuel has been decreasing.
IAEA inspectors have been allowed to visit Iran’s enrichment sites, but a senior diplomat with deep knowledge of the IAEA’s investigations said that they are being intimidated.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi, alleged in September that “saboteurs” could have infiltrated the Vienna-based nuclear agency.
“It creates an atmosphere of intimidation,” the diplomat said about the effect that these comments have had on nuclear inspectors trying to verify whether or not Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
Tehran has not allowed the IAEA to look into alleged nuclear weapons projects. Senior IAEA officials are scheduled to go to Tehran in mid-December in yet another attempt to close an agreement on such an investigation.
The IAEA is especially interested in visiting the Parchin military site, where key nuclear weapons parts have been tested, according to Western intelligence findings.
“Such experiments would be strong indicators of possible nuclear weapon development,” Amano noted.
But Iran has been demolishing buildings and removing the top soil at the site, in a possible effort to hide traces.
“When the agency gains access to the location, its ability to conduct effective verification will have been seriously undermined,” Amano said.
In a separate development, the IAEA report said that Iran’s only nuclear power plant at Bushehr has been shut down since mid-October.
The senior Vienna diplomat said this was certainly not a development foreseen by Iran but did not provide a reason for the outage.