Reuters: Iran is preparing large amounts of uranium for enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons, days before its promise to freeze all such activities takes effect, Western diplomats said on Friday. “The Iranians are producing UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) like hell,” a non-U.S. diplomat on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters. “The machines are running.” Reuters
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA – Iran is preparing large amounts of uranium for enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons, days before its promise to freeze all such activities takes effect, Western diplomats said on Friday.
“The Iranians are producing UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) like hell,” a non-U.S. diplomat on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters. “The machines are running.”
Iran denied the information, which was confirmed by multiple diplomatic sources in Vienna.
“This is a sheer lie. I strongly reject it. In contrary, Iran is preparing itself to suspend production of UF6,” Iran’s top IAEA delegate Hossein Mousavian told Reuters in Tehran.
The apparent hasty production of large amounts of enriched uranium is bound to deepen suspicions over Iran, which Washington says is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
UF6 is the form of uranium that is fed into gas centrifuges, which purify uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or weapons, by spinning at supersonic speeds. Iran had promised the European Union it would freeze enrichment and all related activities as of Nov 22.
Another diplomat described it as shocking news and said the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors would have to seriously consider whether to report Tehran to the Security Council for possible sanctions.
“It is a grave matter that will have serious repercussions when we begin our (IAEA board) meeting on Thursday,” a diplomat from another board state said.
Iran announced in September that it would process 37 tons of raw “yellowcake” uranium at its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan. Iran began processing several tons of yellowcake, but only produced uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), a precursor to UF6.
“It was only very recently they began making UF6,” said one diplomat.
The 37 tons of yellowcake could produce sufficient UF6 for up to five weapons, if enriched to a point where it was of weapons-grade purity, experts say.
On Sunday, Tehran promised France, Britain and Germany it would freeze its enrichment program in a bid to ease concerns that its nuclear plans are aimed at producing atomic weapons — a charge it denies — and to escape a referral to the U.N. Security Council when the IAEA meets on Nov. 25.
Diplomats said they had expected Iran to freeze the program as of last Sunday, the day the deal was reached. But technically Iran had the right to continue conversion work until Monday, diplomats said.
Asked how this would affect relations between the EU trio and Iran, one diplomat close the Iran-EU talks said: “I simply don’t know.”
Iran’s U.N. ambassador was not available for comment.
This news comes as Iran dismissed fresh allegations by a group of Iranian exiles who have reported accurately in the past that Tehran is running secret centrifuge and laser uranium enrichment facilities in Tehran for atomic weapons.
But Iran said the IAEA should ignore the comments, which come from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group listed by Washington as a terrorist organization.
“The IAEA should not damage its prestige by listening to this terrorist group’s lies and taking it seriously,” Mousavian said.
He said the charge that Iran is enriching uranium in secret in violation of its pledge to both the EU and the U.N. was an attempt to poison its relations with the IAEA.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Friday also rejected claims by Secretary of State Colin Powell that Tehran had been working on ways to deliver an atomic warhead on a missile.
Diplomats close to the IAEA complained that NCRI allegations always come at the time of IAEA board meetings on Iran. However, several non-U.S. diplomats said this was irrelevant.
“If true, it’s significant,” one diplomat said.