Iran filling nuclear bunker with centrifuges - diplomats

Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:19am EDT

Related Topics

* Iran increasing underground enrichment capacity

* Enrichment takes Iran closer to potential bomb material

* New machines not started up yet - diplomats

* Tehran rejects weapon allegations, says work is for fuel

By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Iran appears to have nearly finished installing centrifuges at its underground nuclear plant, Western diplomats say, potentially boosting its capacity to make weapons-grade uranium if it chose to do so.

Iran only disclosed the existence of the Fordow plant, built inside a mountain to shield it from air strikes, in 2009 after learning that Western spy services had detected it.

The United States and its allies are particularly worried about Fordow because Iran is refining uranium there to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which Iran says it needs for a medical reactor.

The diplomats said they had heard of indications that Iran had put in place the last 640 or so uranium centrifuges of a planned total of some 2,800 at the site, but had not started running them yet.

"I understand that they have installed all the centrifuges there," one envoy said.

Another diplomat said he also believed that the centrifuges had been placed in position, but that piping and other preparations needed to operate them may not yet be completed.

Twenty percent purity is only a short technical step from weapons grade, and the work goes to the heart of Western fears that a programme that Iran says is purely peaceful is in fact a cover for the development of a nuclear weapons capability.

Any move by Iran to increase output at Fordow would further alarm the United States and Israel, which have reserved the option to use military force to prevent Iran getting the bomb, and complicate on-off diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute.

There was no immediate comment from Iran or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog based in Vienna, which is expected to issue its next report on Tehran's nuclear programme in mid-November.

FEARS OF WAR

Diplomacy and successive rounds of economic sanctions have so far failed to end the decade-old row, raising fears of Israeli military action against its arch enemy and a new Middle East war damaging to a fragile world economy.

Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path, analysts say.

The IAEA said in its last report in August that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges at Fordow to 2,140 in about three months.

But diplomats said the number of machines that were in operation, nearly 700, had not changed since early this year.

"The last I heard was that they (the newly installed centrifuges) were not operational," one of the diplomats said.

It was not clear whether Iran was holding back for technical or political reasons. It is also not known whether the centrifuges that are not yet operating will be used for 5- or 20-percent enrichment, or both.

Iran may be able to accumulate up to four 'significant quantities' of weapons-grade uranium - each sufficient for one bomb - in as little as nine months from now, nuclear experts Olli Heinonen of Harvard University's Belfer Center and Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute said in a paper.

"This timetable will shrink as more 20 percent enriched uranium is produced, at which point potential breakout time will be measured in weeks rather than months," they said.

Nuclear experts say any country seeking to become a nuclear-armed power would probably only break out once it could produce at least several bombs.

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Comments (2)
derykhouston wrote:
The west is clearly only interested in regime change for Iran. This has nothing to do with the threat that Iran might “someday” want to pursue a nuclear bomb. The reason I say this is because the west refused Iran’s generous offer “twice” when Iran agreed to a fuel exchange. This would have satisfied the west’s fear that Iran might be accumulating a large amount of processd fuel. The west should have agreed to that.
Also: The west refused to allow Iran the right to process it’s own fuel even when Iran was only processing their fuel at much lower levels. So again the west showed it’s true colours. It wants regime change. Period.
Iran is allowed under international law to process it’s own fuel for civilian needs. Every drop of that fuel is accounted for. That is the red line that the NPT agreed on. Iran also allows inspections. That’s how we can account for all the fuel they have processed and at what level they are processing it at. No country in the world can ever allow inspections of all it’s facilities because every country needs the security of knowing that certain state secrets remain secret. Everyone understood that idea when they wrote up the NPT.. This is the problem. You can’t never get around that problem because no country in the world would ever sign such an agreement if it asked for complete inspection. That’s why only nuclear facilities were included in the agreement. It does not allow for ordinary military sites. This dilema occured in Iraq. When the Iraqi’s said that they didn;t have any weapons of mass destruction…..the west kept saying that Iraq must be hiding it in some cave somewhere. So a country can always be accused of having something and Iraq could never prove otherwise. You can’t prove you don;t have something and yet this is exactly what the west is asking Iran to do. No one recognizes the stupidity of this problem.
Iran is under surveilance where it matters. It cant build a bomb without the fuel….which is fully accounted for. That works. It absolutely stops Iran from building a bomb …..because every drop is accounted for.
To say Iran could simply jump out of the treaty that it has signed and rush to make a bomb is not fair either because if it did jump out of the treaty it would open it’self up to major attack and complete destruction.
If it is true that a country would simply jump out of the treaty and rush to a bomb then the treaty is worthless.
Britain, The USA and Israel have all said that they would never allow their fuel supply to be in the hands of another country. So why do they expect Iran to allow it’s fuel supply to be placed under the control of another country? Having said that….Iran did agree to that idea twice….. and the west still turned it down.
The west has chosen war instead and complete destruction and more people who will hate the west. How smart is that?

Oct 25, 2012 11:16am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Logical123 wrote:
What horrors! Iran is installing centrifuges in a facilities that is constantly being monitored by IAEA. What paranoia! So, what?

Oct 25, 2012 1:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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