Iran nuke enrichment stopped; Stuxnet worm suspected

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 23, 2010 03:29

Technical problems force shutdown of thousands of centrifuges used for enriching uranium, diplomats say.

1 minute read.



Workers in the Bushehr nuclear power plant

Bushehr pic newer. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

VIENNA — Iran's nuclear program has suffered a recent setback, with major technical problems forcing the temporary shutdown of thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium, diplomats told The Associated Press on Monday.

The diplomats said they had no specifics on the nature of the problem that in recent months led Iranian experts to briefly power down the machines they use for enrichment — a nuclear technology that has both civilian and military uses.

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But suspicions 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.

Iran says its enrichment efforts are geared only to make nuclear fuel but the program has aroused international concern because it can be re-engineered to produce uranium for nuclear warheads.

There have been hints that the program is beset by technical problems. Even a brief shutdown of the thousands of enriching machines would be the strongest documentation to date that the program — Iran's nuclear cornerstone and a source of national pride — is in trouble.

Iran's enrichment program has come under renewed focus with the conclusion of cyber experts and analysts that the Stuxnet worm that infected Iran's nuclear program was designed to abruptly change the rotational speeds of motors such as ones used in centrifuges. Such sudden changes can crash centrifuges and damage them beyond repair.

No one has claimed to be behind Stuxnet, but some analysts have speculated that it originated in Israel.

Iran nuclear expert David Albright said it was impossible to say what would cause a disruption strong enough to idle the centrifuges but "Stuxnet would do just that.


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