IAEA reports new intelligence on Iranian nuclear weapon

Saturday, February 26, 2011

VIENNA - A solution for the Iranian nuclear standoff moved further into the distance Friday, as international nuclear inspectors reported on new information pointing to recent nuclear weapons work and on Tehran’s plans to start a new nuclear facility by summer.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) pointed out in its report that because of “new information recently received”, it had further concerns about the possible past and ongoing development of an Iranian nuclear missile.

A senior official close to the investigation said material received from one or more member states would “provide additional information on what happened after 2003″, if it was confirmed.

US intelligence agencies had earlier said that Iran likely stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003.

The IAEA also detailed what other information it has on seven possible weapons-related activities in Iran, including testing underground explosives and designing a nuclear missile.

Iran has said that the intelligence received by the IAEA was forged and that it has no such military nuclear aims.

Iranian officials told the IAEA Monday that they plan to operate a second uranium enrichment plant by the summer, the report said.

It is at an underground location near Quom, which Iran kept secret until September 2009.

The IAEA noted that no centrifuges have been installed there yet, but the senior official said: “If they want to work quickly, they can.”

The report came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week urged world powers, including the US, to continue nuclear talks with his government.

There has been no indication of a further meeting since late January, when the last round of Iran’s negotiations with the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China ended without results.

The IAEA document additionally showed that Iran continues turning out enriched uranium at its existing plant in Natanz, despite signs that the Stuxnet computer virus - reportedly planted by foreign agents - is still causing problems.

The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop enriching, as the technology can be used not only to make nuclear reactor fuel, as Iran claims, but also weapons material.

The report did not mention the Stuxnet virus, but the senior official said “several hundred” centrifuges had been replaced, and the repair work was still ongoing.

But despite these difficulties and a one-day outage at Natanz in November, “the production rate hasn’t changed significantly”, he said.

So far, Iran has made 3,606 kg of low-enriched uranium, which experts say is enough to make several weapons if it were processed further.

Natanz has also continued turning out uranium at a higher enrichment level. Iranian leaders say they are doing this to produce fuel for a small reactor in Tehran that is geared towards nuclear medicine.

But the IAEA said when its inspectors visited two facilities to make the fuel elements earlier this month, no equipment had been installed.

Western governments are worried that the higher-enriched uranium could be made into weapons material more quickly than the lower-enriched material.

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