Iran appears set to sharply increase the output at its Fardo underground uranium enrichment facility after completing the installation of almost all centrifuges the facility is designed to hold, according to a leaked copy of an International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by the media on Friday.
The UN nuclear watchdog noted that Iran has now installed all the 2,784 centrifuges at the Fordo enrichment site, which is buried deep inside a mountain near the city of Qom to protect it against any possible enemy strikes.
The report, based on findings of the IAEA inspectors who have visited the site, added that the Islamic Republic could soon double the number of centrifuges operating at the facility to 1,400 from the present 700. This would effectively double Iran's capability of producing 20 percent enriched uranium, which can be processed into 90%, or bomb-grade, enriched uranium relatively fast and easily.
The note revealed that Iran has produced about 233 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, an increase of 43 kg since August. Teheran has used 96 kg of the uranium enriched to 20 percent for conversion into fuel for its medical research reactor in Tehran.
The usage of enriched uranium for civilian purposes contradict western claims about Iran's desperate attempts to develop an atomic bomb, as it is very difficult and time consuming to convert used fuel rods into weapons-grade uranium.
The IAEA report indicated that Iranian technicians had removed the fuel rods from the core of the country's only functioning nuclear power station at Bushehr. The agency said this suggested serious issues with the reactor, and added that Iran is to report those problems to its inspectors.
The report noted that Iran has not yet granted IAEA inspectors access to its Parchin military site, which the West believes was used for explosives testing related to setting off a nuclear weapon. Incidentally, Iran is suspected of attempting to remove evidence from the site.
Although Iran insists its nuclear activity is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects the claim to be a cover-up for the country's nuclear weapon ambitions. Nevertheless, Tehran argues that it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as it is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA.
The report comes at a time when Iran is reeling under four rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over Teheran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Analysts believe that Russia and China, both Iranian allies, are unlikely to support further UN sanctions against Tehran over the issue.
Incidentally, Israeli Prime Minister had warned during the UN General Assembly in September that 240 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium could be enriched further to produce enough weapons grade uranium required for making a nuclear warhead. With the current rate of production, Iran is expected to reach that milestone by mid-June.
There were speculations that Israel might launch a unilateral military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities if Tehran does not end its disputed uranium enrichment work. Nevertheless, Washington continues to oppose any unilateral Israeli military action against the Islamic Republic over the nuclear issue, and wants to allow more time for diplomacy and sanctions to take effect.
Notably, diplomats from P5+1 group of nations, comprising the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, are scheduled to meet later this week to forge out a common strategy for resuming high-level talks with Iran on its disputed nuclear program later this month.
by RTT Staff Writer
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