Washington Post: Iran appears to be preparing to dramatically scale up its production of enriched uranium, according to a new U.N. report that says Iranian scientists have moved to install advanced equipment at the country’s main nuclear complex.
The Washington Post
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Iran appears to be preparing to dramatically scale up its production of enriched uranium, according to a new U.N. report that says Iranian scientists have moved to install advanced equipment at the country’s main nuclear complex.
The report, released Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, also includes fresh evidence that Iran has overcome the damage inflicted to its existing uranium plant by apparent cyberattacks in the last two years. The nuclear watchdog said Iran was boosting its enriched-uranium stockpile at a steady or slightly higher rate compared with production before the attack.
The report sharply criticized Iran for failing to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear agency, which for two years has been stymied in its efforts to investigate alleged nuclear weapons research by Iranian scientists. The stonewalling has made it impossible to “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” the agency said in its report, a confidential summary of recent findings on Iran prepared for a meeting next month of the IAEA’s board of governors.
Iran’s uranium plant at Natanz uses thousands of machines called centrifuges to make enriched uranium, and until now its has relied on an older model that uses 1950s technology. But for the first time, Iran has formally notified the IAEA that it will soon introduce two new kinds of centrifuges into its main production line, the report said.
The machines, called IR2s and IR4s, are far more efficient than the IR1s that Iran now uses, said David Albright, a nuclear weapons expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
“These are fairly advanced machines, and they’re planning to put them into production cascades,” Albright said. The new machines could allow Iran not only to enrich more uranium faster but also to operate smaller uranium facilities that might be easier to hide from satellites and spies, he said.
The IAEA report showed Iran producing low-enriched uranium at a rate of about 300 pounds a month, slightly higher than last fall. Weapons experts say the steady production shows Iran has been largely successful in containing the damage caused by Stuxnet, a computer worm that Iranian officials acknowledge penetrated the plant’s computer system in late 2009 and early 2010.
Iran is believed to have lost roughly a tenth of its centrifuge machines because of the cyberattacks, but its scientists have managed to replace the tainted equipment.
The underground plant at Natanz has produced nearly 31/2 tons of low-enriched uranium, which Iran says it plans to convert into fuel for its nuclear power plant. The uranium could also make at least two nuclear bombs, if Iran were to process it further.