'Iran hid equipment from inspectors'

Warhead making equipment was removed before IAEA inspection.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 28, 2010 19:26
2 minute read.
Ahmadinjead inspects an Iranian nuclear power plant

Nuclear Power plant 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

VIENNA — UN nuclear inspectors revisiting an Iranian laboratory suspected of involvement in a nuclear weapons program discovered that equipment has been removed, diplomats said Friday.

Senior officials within the International Atomic Energy Agency are concerned that the removal was part of a cover-up.

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The equipment can be used for pyroprocessing, a procedure used to purify uranium metal used in nuclear warheads.

Iran had confirmed that it carried out pyroprocessing experiments, but then backtracked in March.

The experiments prompted IAEA experts to revisit a site where they had apparently already seen the equipment, the Jabr Inb Jayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, but they found some of the equipment had been removed to an undisclosed site.

Three diplomats speaking anonymously, said an electrolysis unit used in separating out impurities from uranium metal was among the apparatus that had been removed. Another said chemical apparatus used in the process were now missing.

IAEA officials said the agency would have no comment. Attempts to get Iranian comment were not immediately successful, with Vienna-based Iranian officials not answering their cell phones.

Any Iranian pyroprocessing work, even on an experimental basis, would add to suspicions that Tehran is interested in developing nuclear weapons — even though it insists it is solely interested in the atom as an energy source.

Earlier this week, Iran submitted a new plan to the IAEA that foresees Tehran swapping some of its low-enriched uranium for reactor fuel — terms similar to an earlier plan drawn up in October.

The latest plan gives the appearance of a significant concession, with Iran agreeing to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) to be stored in Turkey and to wait up to a year for higher-enriched uranium from France and Russia. However, Iran is believed to have much more nuclear material stockpiled now.

In October, such a swap would have left Iran with much less than the 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of material needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb. Since then, Iran has continued to churn out low-enriched material, along with starting to enrich to near 20 percent.

In March, the IAEA said Iran's stockpile stood at around 2,100 kilograms (4,600 pounds). It has likely grown to an estimated 2,300 kilograms — about 5,000 pounds, or more than twice the amount needed to produce enough material for a bomb, according to David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which has tracked Iran for signs of covert proliferation.

From the West's point of view, that destroys much of the incentive for an agreement. And Iran's decision to continue its program to enrich to near 20 percent — whether or not it gets fuel from abroad — poses an even greater hurdle because it brings Tehran closer to weapons capability.


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