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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.