Iran Nuclear NewsIAEA confirms Iran prepares for nuclear enrichment

IAEA confirms Iran prepares for nuclear enrichment

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Reuters: The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Tuesday that Iran had begun preparing for nuclear enrichment, which can make fuel for bombs, and continued to hinder a probe of unanswered questions about Iran’s atomic aims. By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Tuesday that Iran had begun preparing for nuclear enrichment, which can make fuel for bombs, and continued to hinder a probe of unanswered questions about Iran’s atomic aims.

In a confidential report to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors, the agency said Iran had not yet begun uranium enrichment itself but had started renovation work at its Natanz enrichment site.

“Substantial renovation of the gas handling system is underway at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

Iran has said it will begin small-scale enrichment and the IAEA said earlier this month that Iran had broken U.N. seals on atomic equipment.

The report, by deputy IAEA chief Olli Heinonen, said Iran had provided more information on attempts to buy equipment that could have been used in a nuclear weapons program but also has peaceful uses. Iran said the attempts were unsuccessful.

Tehran refused, however, to let the IAEA question a key scientist linked to the buying attempts for a site called Lavizan, the report said.

Iran refused because “they said he was a military man,” a senior official close to the IAEA told reporters. Washington and its allies say that military involvement in Iran’s nuclear program is evidence that Tehran is seeking atomic weapons.

The report will be discussed at Thursday’s emergency meeting of the IAEA board, which is expected to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

The West suspects Iran is secretly developing atomic weapons, but Iran denies the charge, saying it only wants to generate electricity.

A senior Iranian nuclear negotiator in Vienna told Reuters the report showed the Security Council need not be involved.

“This report shows that Iran has had full cooperation with the agency (IAEA) and has provided whatever the agency has demanded. And it shows that reporting Iran to the Security Council would be meaningless and would not benefit any party.”

The report also said Iran did not let the IAEA copy a 15-page document “related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components”, though it was allowed to look at it.

“Iran has declined the agency’s request to provide the agency with a copy of the document, but did permit the agency during its visit in January 2006 to examine the document again and to place it under agency seal.”

UNEXPLAINED URANIUM PARTICLES

The IAEA said it continues to investigate traces of some particles of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and low-enriched uranium (LEU) found in Iran at sites where enrichment equipment bought through a Pakistani-led nuclear black market was stored.

Western diplomats say the IAEA suspects these unexplained particles might indicate Iran was enriching uranium at locations it has never declared to the agency.

The discovery of HEU and LEU particles in 2003 prompted the United States to accuse Iran of secretly enriching uranium to fuel atomic weapons. Tehran said the particles were the result of contamination by the equipment’s original owners in Pakistan.

The IAEA has confirmed that many of the particles appeared to come from Pakistan, but the origin of some particles remains unexplained.

The IAEA said it continued to monitor via satellite progress on Iran’s nuclear research reactor, a project the IAEA board has repeatedly called on Iran to scrap because it could yield large quantities of nuclear bomb fuel.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)

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