Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu.
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
VIENNA - Iran is believed to be expanding uranium enrichment activity
deep inside a mountain, diplomatic sources said on Monday, a move likely
to add to tension with Western powers that suspect Tehran is seeking
nuclear weapons capability.
The move to increase sensitive nuclear work at the Fordow underground
site near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom, even if expected,
underlines the Islamic state's defiance in the face of intensifying
Western pressure to curb such activity.
Iran last month confirmed
it had begun refining uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent
at Fordow, shifting its highest-grade enrichment from an above-ground
location to better protect it against any strikes by Israel or the
Washington, which has not ruled out military
action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve the long-running
nuclear dispute, on Jan. 9 denounced the start-up of the Fordow plant as
a further escalation of Iran's "ongoing violations" of UN resolutions.
that time, diplomats said Iran was operating at Fordow two so-called
cascades, each of 174 centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic
speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope. More centrifuges
were being installed, they said.
Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses.
Vienna-based diplomat said two more cascades, like the first pair
connected with each other to make the process more efficient, had now
also been deployed to enrich uranium.
"The second set of cascades
is operational ... my understanding is they are both operational and
(have) no problems," the diplomat said.
Another diplomat accredited to the IAEA also painted a picture of expanding activity at Fordow, without giving details.
Iran nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the
Vienna-based UN agency that regularly inspects Iranian nuclear sites
including Fordow, was immediately available for comment.
said last year that it would transfer its highest-grade uranium
refinement work to Fordow from its main enrichment plant at Natanz, and
sharply boost capacity.
The decision to move work which the UN
Security Council has called on Iran to suspend to an underground
facility could further complicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the