Higher enrichment at Iranian site

2012-05-25 20:00
Vienna - The UN atomic agency has found evidence at an underground bunker in Iran that could mean the country has moved closer to producing the uranium threshold needed to arm nuclear missiles, diplomats said on Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found traces of uranium enriched up to 27% at Iran's Fordo enrichment plant, the diplomats told The Associated Press.

That is still substantially below the 90% level needed to make the fissile core of nuclear arms. But it is above Iran's highest-known enrichment grade, which is close to 20%, and which already can be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly than the Islamic Republic's main stockpile, which can only be used for fuel at around 3.5%.

The diplomats - who demanded anonymity because their information is privileged - said the find did not necessarily mean that Iran was covertly raising its enrichment threshold toward weapons-grade level.

They said one likely explanation was that the centrifuges that produce enriched uranium initially over-enriched at the start as technicians adjusted their output - an assessment shared by nonproliferation expert David Albright.

Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security looks for signs of proliferation, said a new configuration for the cascades set up in tandem at Fordo means they tend to "overshoot 20%" at start up.

Sanctions

"Nonetheless, embarrassing for Iran," he wrote in an e-mail to the AP.

Calls to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, were rejected and the switchboard operator at the Iranian mission said he was not available. IAEA media officials said the agency had no comment.

Iran is under several rounds of UN sanctions for its failure to disclose information on its controversial nuclear programme. Tehran says it is enriching uranium to provide more nuclear energy for its growing population, while the US and other nations fear that Iran doing that to have the ability to make nuclear weapons.

The latest attempts to persuade Iran to compromise and let UN experts view its nuclear programme ended inconclusively on Wednesday at a meeting in Baghdad.

At the talks, six nations - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - failed to gain traction in efforts to persuade Tehran to freeze its 20% enrichment. Envoys said the group will meet again next month in Moscow.

Iran started enriching to 20% last year, mostly at Fordo, saying it needed the material to fuel a research reactor and for medical purposes.

Hope

Still, its long-standing refusal to stop enrichment and accept reactor fuel from abroad has sparked fears it wants to expand its domestic programme to be able to turn it toward making weapons.

Those concerns have increased since it started higher enrichment at Fordo, which is carved into a mountain.

That, say Iranian officials, makes it impervious to attack from Israel or the United States, which have not ruled out using force as a last option if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.

Even though Wednesday's talks were unproductive, diplomats saw hope in the promise of another meeting.

"It is clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is formally leading the talks, told reporters.

"However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground."

Significant differences

Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, offered a lukewarm assessment of Wednesday's negotiations, in light of European and American refusal to lift tough sanctions against Iran as Tehran had hoped.

"The result of the talks was that we were able to get more familiar with the views of each other," Jalili told reporters.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said significant differences remain between the two sides and that it's now up to Iran "to close the gaps".

"Iran now has the choice to make: Will it meet its international obligations and give the world confidence about its intentions or not?" Clinton said.

Iran went into Wednesday's talks urging 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 1 July, shutting the door on about 18% of Iran's market.

Experiments

The diplomats said a confidential IAEA report on Iran's nuclear programme to be released later on Friday to the agency's 35-nation board will mention of the traces of 27% enrichment found at Fordo.

Iran already has around 700 centrifuges churning out 20% enriched uranium at Fordo. The diplomats said the report will also note that - while Iran has set up around 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 serve as a signal from Tehran that it is waiting for progress in the negotiations.

The report is also expected to detail the state of talks between the UN nuclear agency and Iran that the agency hopes will re-launch a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Tehran has worked on nuclear-weapons related experiments - charges that Tehran denies.

- AP
Read more on:    un  |  hillary clinton  |  us  |  iran  |  iran nuclear programme  |  sanctions  |  nuclear
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
11 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

This is what South Africans Googled in 2014!

Find out who and what South Africans were most curious about in 2014!

 
 

I love summer.24

This hilarious song is your new holiday anthem
The world's least visited destination is breathtaking!
LOL treadmill fail!
Google’s top searches of 2014

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be emotionally defensive or reserved today. You need to step up today as there may be extra responsibilities to deal with....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.