IAEA: Iran has doubled underground nuclear capacity

UN nuclear watchdog report says "extensive activities" has seen number of centrifuges double since May.

August 30, 2012 19:01
2 minute read.
IAEA's Nackaerts with Iran's Soltanieh

IAEA's Nackaerts with Iran's Soltanieh 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Herwig Prammer)


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Iran has doubled the number of uranium- enrichment centrifuges it has in an underground bunker, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday, showing Tehran’s defiance toward Western pressure to stop its atomic work and the threat of an attack.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also said in a report that “extensive activities” – a reference to a suspected clean-up – at Iran’s Parchin military complex would hamper its investigation of possible past nuclear weapons development there, if inspectors are ever granted access.

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The number of enrichment centrifuges at Fordow, a site buried deep inside a mountain to better protect it against any enemy strike, more than doubled to 2,140 from 1,064 in May, according to the IAEA’s quarterly report. However, the new centrifuges are not yet operating, it said.

The report showed that Iran had produced nearly 190 kilograms of highergrade enriched uranium since 2010, up from 145 kilograms in May.

An Israeli government official responded to the IAEA report by saying it “is further proof of what Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu has been saying about Iran for years.”

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Iran, which denies developing nuclear weapons technology, says it needs the material to fuel a medical research reactor, but the increase also takes it significantly closer to making potential bomb material.

The report is likely to add to Western alarm about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and may further fuel speculation that the West might launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

Language used by some politicians has also fanned speculation that Israel might hit Iran’s nuclear sites before the November US presidential vote. Washington has said there is still time for diplomatic pressure to work, but it could be drawn into any war between the two Middle East foes.

The IAEA May report said Iran had installed a total of 1,064 centrifuges, of which 696 were operating, in some six cascades. The diplomats said Iran has since added at least another 328 centrifuges, a jump of about 30 percent from the May figure, and perhaps more.

While the newly added centrifuges at Fordow are not yet operating, the expansion reaffirmed Iranian defiance of international demands to suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses depending on refinement level.

“There is reason to be concerned by the increased tempo of enrichment, the larger stockpile of enriched uranium and, most importantly, the additional centrifuges installed in the deeply-buried facility at Fordow,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank.

It may reinforce the belief in Israel that diplomatic and economic pressure is failing to make the Islamic Republic curb its uranium enrichment program.

Iran denies allegations it seeks a nuclear weapons capability and says all its atomic work is for peaceful purposes. It has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.

Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday told heads of state from developing countries at a meeting in Tehran that the country has no interest in nuclear weapons but will keep pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.

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