Iran's defiant nuclear expansion raises bar for Geneva talks

VIENNA Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:34am EDT

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi talks to journalist ahead of a meeting with U.N. nuclear inspectors about Iran's disputed nuclear programme at Iran's embassy in Vienna September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi talks to journalist ahead of a meeting with U.N. nuclear inspectors about Iran's disputed nuclear programme at Iran's embassy in Vienna September 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader

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VIENNA (Reuters) - When the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006 to try to make it halt its nuclear activity, the Islamic state had a nascent uranium enrichment program with a couple of hundred centrifuges it was testing.

Seven years later - a period which has seen the major oil producer come under increasing international punitive measures - it has installed more than 19,000 such machines for processing uranium, which can have both civilian and military purposes.

The figures, from quarterly reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, demonstrate Iran's determination to press ahead with a project it says is peaceful but which the West fears is aimed at developing the capability to assemble atomic bombs.

At the same time, it has amassed stocks of low- and medium-enriched uranium gas - 6.8 tons and 186 kg respectively - that experts say would be enough for several bombs if processed further to weapons-grade material.

The sanctions are taking a heavy toll on Iran's economy - its daily earnings from oil sales have tumbled 60 percent since 2011 to $100 million - but they have not stopped its nuclear push.

World powers hope to persuade Iran at talks in Geneva on October 15-16 to scale back its uranium enrichment. It is no longer considered realistic to expect Tehran to agree to suspend all enrichment, as demanded by the Security Council.

With 17 declared nuclear facilities across the country, the atomic program has "become a point of national pride", said Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank. "Iran's nuclear program cannot be wished or bombed away."

Director General Yukiya Amano of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspectors in Iran almost all the time, told Reuters in June that Tehran was making "steady progress" in expanding its nuclear program and sanctions did not seem to be slowing it down.


Since 2006, Iran has crossed several thresholds deemed unacceptable by the West and Israel - believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power - which has threatened military strikes to ensure that its foe does not acquire such arms.

Iran built a second uranium enrichment plant at Fordow, deep underground near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom, started producing uranium to a level closer to that suitable for bombs, and installed advanced centrifuges able to enrich much faster.

Illustrating the nuclear program's growth and increasing complexity, the IAEA's reports have more than doubled in length, to 14 pages this year from just five in 2006.

Despite a more moderate tone from Iran under new President Hassan Rouhani, Vienna-based diplomats say they see no clear indication so far that Iran is putting the brakes on its nuclear drive.

Between May and August this year, it installed an additional 1,861 old-generation centrifuges at its main enrichment site near the town of Natanz, bringing the total to 15,416, although only about 60 percent of them seemed to be in operation.

At the same time, Iran completed putting in place 1,008 advanced, so-called IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz and was planning to test them, the IAEA said in a report issued in late August.

At Fordow, it continued to produce medium-enriched uranium - refined to 20 percent concentration of the fissile isotope - with 700 IR-1 centrifuges out of a total of 2,710 installed.

In addition, it has 328 IR-1 machines producing the same medium-enriched material in a research and development facility in the Natanz complex, as well as nearly 400 centrifuges of various models it is testing, including more advanced ones.

Iran's total number of centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speed to separate the fissile U-235 isotope - comes to over 19,800. The fact that many of them remain idle suggests that Iran could sharply ramp up production at short notice.

"Iran could quickly begin feeding natural uranium into these cascades (linked networks of centrifuges) and more than double its enrichment capacity," said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security think-tank.

Iran says it makes the centrifuges itself, but nuclear experts believe it likely needs to procure special components and materials for the equipment abroad, evading sanctions aimed at stopping the trade.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (4)
Life1 wrote:
The funniest thing about this article is that the author is able to write down the specifics of the program down to the last centrifuge and gram of enriched uranium; pretty good indication that Iran isn’t quite as ‘defiant’ as everybody claims since the IAEA seems to be doing its job unimpeded.

Credit to the author for noting that the IAEA ‘has inspectors in Iran almost all the time’, but pity he wastes it all by quoting Albright at the end… The word hack doesn’t even come close.

Oct 11, 2013 11:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
sandtraveler wrote:
For those of you that support Iran’s quest for the bomb; take a good look at its creation of the Shia Crescent; Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Look at the population demographics of the oil fields of the Arabian Gulf; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar; they contain significant populations of Shia Muslims.

Review the primary tenet of the Shia; not to recognize any sovereign authority except that of the Shia religion. The Head of the Shia is the Grand Ayatollah in Iran.

Look at Iran’s actions; spreading their fanatical religion in South America, to Mexico and the borders of the U.S.A.

And lastly, Iran’s nuclear program. Once it gets its nuke, Iran will hold a knife to the throat of the Arabian Gulf’s oil producing countries; it will be an existential threat to the entire world.

The Bahrain Protocol, Amazon Kindle’s new thriller spells out the truth in a gripping novel about the U.S.’ withdrawal from the world stage; and if the U.S. won’t stop Iran, Israel will-with its new partner, Saudi Arabia.

An Israeli attack would not be expected to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Its purpose would be to drag the U.S. into the war on Israel’s side, kicking and screaming. Exactly as laid out in Amazon Kindle’s new thriller; The Bahrain Protocol.

Oct 11, 2013 11:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
@SandTraveler: Please keep travelling (in your mind/imagination)this is unfortunately the same mantra of the 60′s the Russian’s are coming so they built under ground bunkers. And for Heavan’s sake, since when did Israel become friends with Saudi Arabia? or is this just an imaginary fantasy of a “sandtraveler”?
Instead of making peace why is your agenda to bomb innocent people, conversely claiming that you are the true victims. Try reading the article at length, it says “Israel believed to be the only Nuclear power in M.E.”

Oct 11, 2013 11:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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