Iran Nuclear NewsU.N.: Iran Has Tons of Gas for Weapon

U.N.: Iran Has Tons of Gas for Weapon

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AP: Iran has pumped out about seven tons of the gas it needs for uranium enrichment since it restarted the process last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Friday. A former U.N. nuclear inspector said that would be enough for an atomic weapon. Associated Press

By GEORGE JAHN

Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria – Iran has pumped out about seven tons of the gas it needs for uranium enrichment since it restarted the process last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Friday. A former U.N. nuclear inspector said that would be enough for an atomic weapon.

In unusually strong language, an IAEA report also said despite its investigation, questions remain about key aspects of Iran’s 18 years of clandestine nuclear activity and that it still was unable “to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

“Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue,” said the confidential document obtained by The Associated Press. The document listed perceived Iranian failings and called for “access to individuals, documentation related to procurement … certain military-owned workshops and research and development locations.”

Among the unanswered questions, according to the report, were gaps in the documented development of Iran’s centrifuge program used in uranium enrichment – and in what was received, and when, from the black market network headed by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

Overall, the report confirmed recent revelations that most of the traces of weapons-grade uranium were imported to Iran on equipment from Pakistan that it bought on the black market – even though it said it was not possible to determine the origins of other traces enriched to less than weapons grade.

That finding hurts U.S. arguments that the traces were likely the result of enrichment done in Iran, as part of a secret program to make nuclear weapons.

But the key issue was uranium conversion – changing raw uranium into gas that then is spun by centrifuges into enriched uranium.

The report, prepared by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, said Iran had produced about 15,000 pounds of uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous feed stock that is spun by centrifuge into enriched uranium. Depending on the level of enrichment, that substance can be used either as a source of power or as the core of nuclear weapons.

The document did not make a finding on whether Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon, and Tehran insists its intentions are only to generate nuclear power.

But David Albright, a former IAEA nuclear inspector, said that were Tehran to use the material for weapons purposes, it would be enough for one atomic bomb.

After Iran resumed conversion last month, key European nations set a Sept. 3 deadline for Tehran to reimpose its freeze of the process or face the threat of referral to the U.N. Security Council – a warning most recently repeated last week by French President Jacques Chirac.

The 35-nation IAEA board meets Sept. 19 on Iran and will debate options that could include a U.S.-EU push for Security Council referral.

The Security Council, in turn, could impose sanctions – although members China and Russia are believed to oppose sanctions. At a minimum, the issue would receive world attention if debated by the U.N.’s top body.

The document, prepared for that board meeting, did not report on Iran’s conversion activities past the end of August, the time of the date of the last visit by IAEA inspectors to the central city of Isfahan, where the activities are taking place.

But with no word from Iran that it would cease conversion before the deadline of Sept. 3 – Saturday – there was little hope that Tehran was interested in deflecting the threat.

The facility at Isfahan covers more than 150 acres spread along mountains outside the city. Parts were built in tunnels in the mountains as protection from airstrikes.

The report said that in late August, Iran also informed the IAEA that it would move its tons of raw uranium feedstock needed for conversion into those tunnels, which diplomats familiar with Iran’s nuclear program say have been hardened against “bunker buster” bombs like those that struck Taliban command centers deep underground in Afghanistan.

Tehran last month rejected economic and other incentives offered by Britain, France and Germany – negotiating on behalf of the EU – and resumed conversion, a prelude to enrichment.

Iran argues that it has a right to enrichment for peaceful purposes. The Europeans say Tehran broke its word by unilaterally resuming conversion while still negotiating with the European Three on ways to reduce international suspicions about its nuclear agenda.

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