Nuclear Power plant 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Nuclear inspectors monitoring Iran found the country's enrichment program temporarily shut down a week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Tuesday, reflecting a possible setback for the cornerstone of the country's nuclear activities and source of national pride.
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The UN nuclear monitor offered no reason for the Nov. 16 stoppage witnessed by IAEA staff and described in its latest report on Iran. The inspectors were on site at the Natanz enrichment plant in central Iran for only one or two hours, and it was unclear whether the shutdown lasted just hours, days, or longer. A senior diplomat familiar with the agency's overview of Teheran's atomic activities said the Iranians gave IAEA inspectors no time frame or explanation.
The diplomat said he had known of only "two or three" such interruptions since monitoring of large scale enrichment Natanz began more than three years ago. In one case, he said, the Iranians had to change a tank containing the uranium gas fed into centrifuges — a procedure no longer necessary because cascades, or centrifuge configurations used to enrich, now had multiple tanks.
The diplomat — who asked for anonymity because the agency report is confidential — said, however, that technical problems were likely the reason for the most recent interruption.
Diplomats who first told The Associated Press of the interruption on
Monday, also could not say what caused it. But some speculation focused
on the Stuxnet worm, the computer virus thought to be aimed at Iran's
nuclear program, which experts last week identified as being calibrated
to destroy centrifuges by sending them spinning out of control. No one
has claimed to be behind Stuxnet, but some analysts have speculated it
originated in Israel.
Iran denied that Stuxnet had succeeded in
damaging its nuclear program. The country's nuclear chief, Vice
President Ali Akbar Salehi, on Tuesday accused the West of being behind a
failed sabotage attempt and said details about the virus became known
only after Iran's "enemies failed to achieve their goals."
the past several months, Iranian officials have acknowledged that the
Stuxnet code had spread widely through Iranian industrial sites and
infected several personal laptops belonging to employees at the
country's first nuclear power plant.
The rare interruption in
enrichment is significant against a backdrop of stagnation in the
Iranian enrichment effort, appearing to be the latest evidence of
serious difficulties in expanding the program after initial rapid
Tehran has taken hundreds of centrifuges off line over
the past 18 months, feeding speculation that enrichment was being
hampered by major technical issues.
Iran's enrichment program is
of international interest because the process can create both nuclear
fuel and fissile nuclear warhead material. While Iran insists it wants
to enrich only to run a nuclear reactor network, its nuclear secrecy,
refusal to accept fuel from abroad and stonewalling of IAEA efforts to
follow up on suspicions of covert experiments with components of a
nuclear weapons program have heightened concerns — and led to UN