AFP: The UN atomic watchdog on Monday demanded more information from Iran about the purpose of a previously secret nuclear site and indicated that the Islamic Republic could be hiding other facilities. By Simon Morgan
VIENNA (AFP) — The UN atomic watchdog on Monday demanded more information from Iran about the purpose of a previously secret nuclear site and indicated that the Islamic Republic could be hiding other facilities.
Iran has also said that the new site near the holy city of Qom should be operational in 2011, which could heighten fears in the West which has already accused Tehran of seeking a nuclear bomb.
President Barack Obama said before the new International Atomic Energy Agency report was released that Iran was "running out of time" to accept a deal whereby other nations would enrich its uranium.
"Iran's declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities in Iran which (have) not been declared to the agency," said the new IAEA report.
The UN agency said "Iran's explanation about the purpose of the facility and the chronology of its design and construction requires further clarification."
Iran revealed to the IAEA in September that it had built a second uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain near Qom. It has told the IAEA in a letter that the new plant should be operational by 2011.
The disclosure of its existence triggered new outrage in the West over the nuclear drive, even though Iran denies it is trying to build a bomb.
Uranium is used for fuel for civilian reactors, but in highly enriched form can also make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
Iran has been enriching uranium for several years at a plant in the central city of Natanz, in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions.
In its first official report since IAEA experts inspected the Qom site last month, the watchdog said that Tehran's delay in disclosure "does not contribute to the building of confidence."
The agency said it had acquired satellite images indicating some sort of construction work had taken place there between 2002 and 2004 and had resumed in 2006.
Iran said the site was planned as a back-up plant should the Natanz plant be bombed, for example, and work on turning it into such a facility began in the second half of 2007.
Even if that was true, the IAEA stated: "Iran's failure to notify the agency of the new facility until September 2009 was inconsistent with its obligations."
During the visit to the Qom site last month, IAEA inspectors verified that the plant "was built to contain 16 cascades with a total of approximately 3,000 (uranium-enriching) centrifuges," the report stated.
The Natanz plant currently has around 8,000 centrifuges installed.
No centrifuges had been installed in Qom, but the plant was "at an advanced stage of construction," the IAEA said, adding that Iran gave the inspectors "access to all areas of the facility."
The IAEA said it has told Iran that it still has "questions about the purpose for which the facility had been intended and how it fit into Iran's nuclear programme."
It has requested access to the plant project manager and those responsible for its design "along with access to original design documentation," so that it could confirm Iran's statements on "the purpose of the facility."
The IAEA declared that Iran is still refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, despite the UN sanctions.
So far, Tehran has amassed 1,763 kilogrammes of low-enriched uranium (LEU) at Natanz, an increase of 255 kilogrammes from the time of the IAEA's last report at end-August, inspectors found.
Earlier in Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed that Iran's nuclear rights were "non-negotiable". He said the "enemies" of the nuclear programme had been defeated.
Western powers are awaiting Iran's answer to a UN-brokered plan to supply enriched fuel for a nuclear research reactor in Tehran.
Speaking in Singapore on Sunday, US President Barack Obama said: "Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran has been unable to say yes" to the proposal. We now are running out of time with respect to that approach."