Iran has expanded sensitive nuclear work: U.N. agency (REUTERS) By Fredrik Dahl VIENNA, AUSTRIA 02/24/12 4:15pm EST)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Iran has sharply stepped up its controversial uranium
enrichment drive, the United Nations´ nuclear agency said Friday in a
report that will further inflame Israeli fears that the Islamic
Republic is pushing ahead with atomic bomb plans.
The nuclear watchdog also gave details of its mission to Tehran this
week where Iran failed to respond to allegations of research relevant
to developing nuclear arms - a blow to the possible resumption of
diplomatic talks that could help defuse fears of a new war in the
"The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible
military dimensions to Iran´s nuclear program," the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a quarterly report about Iran
issued to its member states.
The Islamic Republic´s increase of work which can have both civilian
and military purposes underlines that it has no intention of backing
down in a long-running row with the West that has sparked fears of
U.S. crude futures extended a rally on the IAEA´s findings, which
added to fears that Iran´s tensions with the West would escalate. It
gained more than $2 to hit the highest intraday price in nine months.
In what would be a big expansion, Iran has increased the number of
centrifuge machines enriching uranium - material which can be used to
make atomic bombs if refined much further - by roughly a third since
late last year, the report indicated.
Preparatory work to install thousands more centrifuges is under way,
potentially shortening the time needed to make high-grade uranium for
a nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes
but its refusal to curb enrichment has drawn increasingly tough
sanctions on its oil exports.
Iran´s ambassador to the IAEA said the report had vindicated its
position and insisted Tehran has no intention of giving up its
"The IAEA report indicated that all Iran´s nuclear activities are
under the supervision of the agency," the semi-official Fars news
agency quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh as saying.
"It shows again that Iran´s nuclear activity is peaceful."
Israel, which has threatened Iran with pre-emptive strikes on its
nuclear sites, had no immediate comment.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that the Islamic
state´s nuclear research could soon pass into what he called a "zone
of immunity," protected from outside disruption.
The European Union´s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the
IAEA report increased concerns over the real purpose of Iran´s
Ashton, who represents global powers - the United States, Russia,
China, Germany, France and Great Britain - in stalled talks with
Iran, also urged Tehran to cooperate fully with the IAEA.
"The findings of this new IAEA report contribute to further increased
concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear
program," Ashton´s spokeswoman said.
"Iran has to address all existing concerns and to build confidence in
the nature of its nuclear program."
The confidential IAEA report showed that Iran has, since November
last year, tripled output of uranium refined to a level that brings
it significantly closer to potential bomb material, an official
familiar with the agency´s probe said.
"The concern is that they are trying to give the impression that they
are putting in the capability that could much more quickly make
weapon-grade uranium," nuclear proliferation expert David Albright
"This could all be posturing to show further defiance but
unfortunately it does concern many countries about what is Iran
planning." Albright added, however, that Iran seemed to have problems
developing newer and more efficient centrifuges.
NUCLEAR WORK IN BUNKER
The failure of the two-day IAEA visit to Tehran this week could
hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and
the six world powers as the sense grows that Tehran feels it is being
backed into a corner.
The IAEA team sought answers from Iran raised by a previous agency
report in November which suggested it had pursued military nuclear
technology. Those findings helped to precipitate the latest sanctions
by the EU and United States.
Making clear the two sides had been far apart, the IAEA report said
there were major differences on how to tackle the issue and that Iran
had dismissed the U.N. agency´s concerns as "unfounded." No further
meetings are planned.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano urged Iran in the report to
provide "early access" to Parchin, a military site near Tehran seen
as central to the agency´s investigations into possible military
aspects of Iran´s nuclear work.
His agency´s report showed Iran had carried out an expansion of
activities both at its main enrichment plant near the central city of
Natanz and at the Fordow underground site.
Enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, which is
Iran´s stated aim, or provide material for bombs if refined much
further, which the West suspects is Tehran´s ultimate plan.
At Natanz, the IAEA report said Iran had declared that 52 cascades -
each containing around 170 centrifuges - were now operating, up from
37 in November. At Fordow, about 700 centrifuges are now refining
uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent and preparations are
under way to install more.
Fordow is of particular concern for the West and Israel as Iran is
shifting the most sensitive aspect of its nuclear work, 20 percent
enrichment, to the site.
Estimated to be buried beneath 80 meters (265 feet) of rock and soil,
it gives Iran better protection against any Israeli or U.S. military
Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but Western
experts say much of the effort required to get there is already
achieved once it reaches 20 percent concentration, shortening the
time needed for any nuclear weapons "break-out."
The IAEA said Iran had now produced nearly 110 kg of uranium enriched
to 20 percent since early 2010. Western experts say about 250 kg is
needed for a nuclear weapon, although it would need to be enriched
(Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri in Tehran, Tabassum Zakaria in
Washington and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
(© Thomson Reuters 2012. 02/24/12)
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