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.


"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.


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.


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.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 20:21

    Are you reading Fidel? This is the IAEA you're relying on.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 21:46

      I was just checking to see whether Fidel was following the story. :)

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-25 21:54

      It's your choice to not read my message carefully enough and superimpose you're own meanings onto it, like you do with international affairs, the Middle East in particular. :)

  • arne.verhoef - 2012-05-25 23:28

    Hak hak, hier kom...

  • Jerzy - 2012-05-26 06:12

    Fred don't you ever tire of calling others racist when you are the biggest Islamophobic racist on this board. Your hatred for Muslims is very evident since you only seem to comment on articles relating to them.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-26 15:15

      Through your distorting lenses that's true. In the real world not.

  • mkyounus - 2012-05-26 07:48

    i would like to say to fred fraser that when the west invaded iraq on suspicion of WMD,did they find any?no!!! so the exact scenario is unfolding now!! those yankee bastards and their coward allys are after the oil and this nuclear crap stories are only another excuse for their cowardly i would like to say to you that you are missing the broader picture here!! it is all about oil,and when they do decide to invade Iran then i am afraid that we all will have to pay the price!! as the oil price will rocket sky high and you think that these yanks care about your support for them!!! oh please be serious,cos we,including yourself mr.fraser are just another pawn in their political games

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-05-26 15:28

      I'm missing the broader picture here, it's all about oil? That's not broad. It's reductionist. Clearly it's you who is missing the broader picture. You should educate yourself about who the Iranian regime is and what they do before jumping to simple conclusions like that. The Iranian regime adjusts elections to hold onto power. It has effectively hijacked the Iranian state from the Iranian people. It supports the stoning to death of women. It funds Islamic fundamentalists who have killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims the world over. It denies the occurrence of the Holocaust which was the single biggest attempt at human genocide in the history of humanity. And it openly calls for the destruction of Israel, a sovereign nation. Even the gun-running Russian regime, which is helping Bashar Assad slaughter thousands of Syrians and destroy Syria to hold onto unelected power, is against the Iranian regime having nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein had WMD's. He gassed thousands of Iraqi Kurds to death, and used them against Iran. Not that I agreed with the Invasion of Iraq, but at least I know what the real picture was in regard to WMD's. You're just following simplified popular opinion, which is rarely right. Are you going to say and do anything about the HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of innocent Muslims slaughtered and maimed by the Jihadists and unelected dictators in your midsts?

  • pages:
  • 1