(Reuters) - Iran has made important strides towards nuclear transparency but not resolved key questions and has dramatically increased uranium enrichment, a U.N. report said.
The West suspects Iran’s declared quest for civilian nuclear energy is a front for mastering the means to make atom bombs, in violation of non-proliferation pacts. Iran, a big oil producer, says it is wants only an alternative source of electricity.
Following is a sketch of the report’s main findings:
Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges enriching uranium together in its vast underground Natanz nuclear complex, a 10-fold increase over the past year. Three thousand would be enough to start industrial production of nuclear fuel. But Iran is running the centrifuges at very low capacity, suggesting an effort to avoid breakdowns of the antiquated P-1 machine it is using.
-- Iran turned over a black-market manual outlining how to mould uranium metal into spheres for nuclear warheads. IAEA inspectors discovered the document while examining nuclear facilities suspected to have military dimensions but were not allowed to take out copies for investigative purposes until now.
-- Iran in September signed a binding accord governing inspector access to its vast underground Natanz enrichment hall.
After stonewalling for years, Iran since August has turned over documentation and granted IAEA interviews with Iranian officials involved in developing centrifuges with designs and parts obtained from nuclear smugglers. This allowed the IAEA to match Iranian statements with its own intelligence and ease fears of possible undeclared work devoted to bomb-making.
But before resolving the issue, the IAEA must verify Iran’s information is complete and get to the bottom of possible links to traces of highly-enriched, or bomb-grade, uranium (HEU) that inspectors found at a technical university.
The IAEA remains unable to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s centrifuge program since Iran still denies inspector access to workshops with possible military ties.
Iran told the IAEA this month it was doing mechanical tests, without uranium, of “a new generation of centrifuge design”.
Broadly, the report said, Iranian cooperation had improved but remained “reactive rather than proactive...Active cooperation and full transparency are indispensable...” to creating confidence in Iran’s intentions.
-- The IAEA wants satisfactory explanations on the origin of particles of highly-enriched uranium found on some equipment used at atomic research sites, suggesting military involvement.
-- There has been intelligence, denied by Iran, about illicit Iranian efforts to “weaponise” nuclear materials, namely a “Green Salt Project” linking work on processing uranium ore, tests on high explosives and a missile warhead design.
Iran is to give answers to questions on both issues and permit interviews with relevant officials “in the next few weeks”.
Writing by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; editing by Robert Woodward