UN agency finds higher enrichment at Iranian site (AP) Associated Press) By GEORGE JAHN 05/25/12)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-Top
VIENNA – Inspectors have located radioactive traces at an Iranian
underground bunker, the U.N. atomic agency said Friday — a finding
that could mean Iran has moved closer to reaching the uranium
threshold needed to arm nuclear missiles.
In a report obtained by The Associated Press, the International
Atomic Energy Agency said it was asking Tehran for a full
explanation. But the report was careful to avoid any suggestion that
Iran was intentionally increasing the level of its uranium
enrichment, noting that Tehran said a technical glitch was
Analysts as well as diplomats who had told the AP of the existence of
the traces before publication of the confidential report also said
the higher-enriched material could have been a mishap involving
centrifuges over-performing as technicians adjusted their output
rather than a dangerous step toward building a bomb.
Still, the finding was bound to resonate among the 35 IAEA board
members for whom the report was prepared, among them the six world
powers that had just concluded talks with Iran on its enrichment
activities. The negotiations in Baghdad left the two sides still far
apart over how to oversee Tehran´s atomic program but resolved to
keep dialogue going next month in Moscow as an alternative to
possible military action.
The report also expressed in opaque terms what diplomats accredited
to the IAEA first started mentioning more than a month ago: The
agency fears a massive cleanup under way at buildings at the Parchin
military complex southeast of Tehran. The site is suspected of
housing a pressure chamber and related equipment used to test ways of
detonating a nuclear charge.
"Based on satellite imagery at this location ... the buildings of
interest to the agency are now subject to extensive activities that
could hamper the agency´s ability to undertake effective
verification" at the site, said the report. Separately, a senior
international official familiar with the issue said satellite photos
showed trucks at the site and streams of liquid suggesting the
interiors were being hosed down to wash away evidence of possible
The report said that over the past five months the agency
had "obtained more information" buttressing its suspicions about the
Parchin site, which it has asked repeatedly to visit, only to be
turned down by Iran.
On enrichment, the six world powers trying to engage Iran are already
concerned about its output of uranium at the 20 percent level because
material that high can be turned into weapons-grade much more quickly
than its main, low-enriched stockpile.
The higher the enrichment, the easier it becomes to re-enrich uranium
to warhead quality at 90 percent. As a result, the finding of traces
at 27 percent at the Fordo enrichment plant in central Iran sparked
Iran denies any plans to possess nuclear weapons but has for years
declined offers of reactor fuel from abroad, including more recent
inducements of 20-percent material if it stops producing at that
level. The Islamic Republic says it wants to continue producing 20
percent uranium to fuel its research reactor and for medical purposes.
But its refusal to accept foreign offers has increased fears it may
want to turn its enrichment activities toward producing such arms.
The concerns have been fed by IAEA suspicions that Iran has
experimented on components of an atomic arms program — suspicions
Tehran also denies.
The report cited a May 9 letter from Iranian officials suggesting any
enrichment at 27 percent was inadvertent. The letter said the
particles were produced "above the target value" and could have been
for "technical reasons beyond the operator´s control."
David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and
International Security looks for signs of proliferation, said a new
configuration at Fordo means it tends to "overshoot 20 percent" at
"Nonetheless, embarrassing for Iran," he wrote in an email to the AP.
Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament
Program of the International Institute for Strategic Studies,
described such a surge as a "naturally occurring development," adding
that "it´s very usual" to go above envisaged enrichment levels at
startups of centrifuges.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland
said "there are a number of possible explanations for this, including
the one that the Iranians have provided. But we are going to depend
on the IAEA to get to the bottom of it."
Others were more skeptical.
"It´s not surprising because they have the technology," a senior
Israeli defense official said.
"Iran doesn´t intend to stop its nuclear weapon program, and the fact
that they are at 27 percent shows the Iranian intentions," said the
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not
allowed to speak with the media.
International concerns have increased since Iran started higher
enrichment at Fordo, which is carved into a mountain to make it
impervious to attack. Israel and the United States have not ruled out
using force as a last option if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic
Republic´s nuclear program.
Iran already has about 700 centrifuges churning out 20-percent
enriched uranium at Fordo. The report noted that although Iran has
set up about 350 more centrifuges since late last year at the site,
these machines are not enriching.
While the reason for that could be purely technical, it could also be
a signal from Tehran that it is waiting for progress in the
The latest attempt to persuade Iran to compromise ended
inconclusively Thursday after two days of talks in Baghdad. The six
world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and
Germany — failed to persuade Tehran to freeze its 20 percent
Iran, for its part, failed to persuade the West to scale back on
recently toughened sanctions, which have targeted Iran´s critical oil
exports and have effectively blackballed the country from
international banking networks. The 27-nation European Union is set
to ban all Iranian fuel imports on July 1, shutting the door on about
18 percent of Iran´s market.
But the IAEA report did detail some progress in separate talks
between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran that the agency hopes will
re-launch a long-stalled probe into the suspicions that Tehran has
worked on nuclear-weapons related experiments.
The report said that since 2002, the IAEA "has become increasingly
concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-
related activities involving military-related organizations,
including activities related to the development of a nuclear
Without more openness on the part of Iran, said the report, the
IAEA "cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in
peaceful activities." ___ AP writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem
contributed this report. (© 2012 The Associated Press 05/25/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY