Iran ready to ramp up uranium enrichment at site, says UN report

Sat, Nov 17, 2012, 00:00

Iran is ready to expand its uranium enrichment in an underground site after installing all the centrifuges it was built for, a UN nuclear report showed yesterday, a development likely to fuel western alarm over Tehran’s nuclear aims.

The Islamic state has put in place nearly 2,800 centrifuges for which the Fordow enrichment site, buried deep inside a mountain, was designed and could soon double the number of them operating to almost 1,400, according to the confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters.

Tehran has produced about 233kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, an increase of 43 kg since August this year, according to the report issued in Vienna.

The Iranians have used 96kg of the uranium refined to 20 per cent of fissile purity for conversion into fuel for its medical research reactor in Tehran, the report said.

Countering suspicions

Such conversions make it harder for the material to be processed into 90 per cent, or bomb-grade, enriched uranium and could be a step by Tehran meant in part to counter western suspicions of a covert atomic bomb programme.

But the IAEA report also said that “extensive activities” at the Parchin military compound – an allusion to suspected Iranian attempts to remove evidence – would seriously undermine an agency investigation into indications that research relevant to developing a nuclear explosive were conducted there.

Tehran denies US and Israeli allegations that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying its programme is entirely for peaceful energy. But UN inspectors suspect past, and possibly ongoing, military-related nuclear activity.

The Fordow plant particularly worries the West as it is where Iran refines uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 per cent. Iran says it needs to do this to make fuel for the Tehran research reactor, but it also represents the major technical leap towards the level needed for nuclear weapons.

The fact that Fordow is buried deep underground also makes it less vulnerable to any air strikes, which Israel has threatened if diplomacy fails to stop Iran acquiring the means to produce nuclear weapons. – (Reuters)