2012-08-30 by Richard Weitz The key sentence in the today’s IAEA report on Iran is that the agency is “unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
And this comes after years of agency efforts, bolstered by international sanctions and negotiations, to resolve these mysteries and place credible constraints on Iran’s expanding nuclear weapons potential.
In particular, the Iranian authorities have denied the IAEA’s timely access to the Parchin military complex, which is located 30km southwest of Tehran.
The site is suspected of having an underground nuclear weapons research site. In recent months, Iran has been “sanitizing” the site to remove evidence of any past nuclear activities there.
The IAEA says that Iran “has been conducting activities at that location that will significantly hamper the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.” These include substantial ” ground scraping and landscaping … over an extensive area at and around the location,” as well the demolition of five buildings as well as the removal of power lines, fences, and paved roads near the site.
Tehran has denied the IAEA access to other nuclear sites besides Parchin, such as where Iran researches, develops, and manufactures enrichment technologies and centrifuges.
And, since Iran refuses to ratify the IAEA Additional Protocol, the agency cannot be certain that Iran is not now, or will in the future, enrich uranium at other clandestine locations. Iran initially concealed from the IAEA the gas uranium enrichment facilities at Naztanz and Fordow and only informed the IAEA of these facilities’ existence after they had been exposed by other sources. Analysts estimate that Iran started building the FFEP several years before September 2009.
Another alarming development is that Iran now has doubled the number of high-intensity centrifuges at Fordow, from 1,000 centrifuges in May to more than 2,000 now.
Iran built this Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant 80 meters (265 feet) under a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
This location shields its nuclear activities from a potential adversary air strike as well as making it harder for satellites and other air, space, and ground sensors to monitor them. The depth and proximity to a Shi’ite Muslim holy sites severely complicate any air strike against it since a massive bomb designed to crush the underground site risks severe collateral damage to Qom, which could outrage the world’s Muslims.
It is further noteworthy Iran has now changed the designs of this facility that it provides the IAEA a total of four times. In addition to the site’s initially clandestine construction and its location, these repeated design changes suggest that Fordow’s initial purpose was to manufacture nuclear weapons in secret should the Iranian leadership decide to do so.
The Fordow plant is taking the lead in enriching uranium to 20 percent to fuel the Tehran medical research reactor. But Iran has already made more than a decade worth of such fuel, if consumed by that reactor. The IAEA calculates that Iran had made some 190 kg (418 pounds) of higher-grade enriched uranium now, a major increase since May, when Iran had only 145 kg. It is easier to convert 20-percent enriched uranium to weapons-grade uranium (enriched to 90% or so) than it would be to make it with normally enriched uranium.
The recent reports on Syria and North Korea can be found below.