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Monday, May 28, 2012

IAEA: Iran doubles its stockpile of enriched uranium

Iran has increased its output of enriched uranium, according to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

While the United Nations agency verified that Tehran hasn’t diverted its declared nuclear material for weapons use, the inspectors reiterated past statements that they can’t give assurances that Iran isn’t concealing nuclear activities.

Iran almost doubled its stockpile of 20-percent medium-enriched uranium to 145 kilograms from 73.7 kilograms in February, the IAEA said in an 11-page report. Iran had tripled its production of the material in the three months ending February 24.

IAEA inspectors reported they found the presence of particles of 27-percentenriched uranium at Iran’s Fordow facility. The particles were a result of “technical reasons beyond the operator’s control,” Iran told the Vienna-based agency, which is looking into the matter.

Uranium enriched over 20% is considered highly enriched, though most nuclear bombs use the heavy metal purified to 90% levels.

The report is the first since IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano returned from Iran on May 21 with a commitment from the Islamic Republic’s government to improve cooperation with inspectors.

On Saturday, a US security institute said that Iran’s output of low-enriched uranium and total production in the past five years would be enough for at least five nuclear weapons if refined further.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think tank that tracks Iran’s nuclear program, based the analysis on data in the latest IAEA report.

During talks in Baghdad last week, six world powers failed to convince Iran to scale back its uranium-enrichment program.

They will meet again in Moscow next month to try to defuse a decade-old standoff that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East that could disrupt oil supplies.

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman led a delegation of American officials that traveled from Baghdad to Israel on Friday to brief officials on the talks. She met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror.

She spoke in support of the decision in Baghdad to continue the talks between the six world powers and Iran and to hold a follow-up meeting in Moscow on June 18-19.

Although she told reporters that the US and Israel were on the same page when it came to Iran, Israel has clearly stated its opposition to the continued talks.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the past week warned the West that Iran was using the talks to play for time to advance its nuclear program.

An Israeli official repeated that stance to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. The official noted that the latest decision to hold another round of talks, means that this latest diplomatic initiative will have gone on for two months.

“Israel is concerned that Iran is exploiting the time the peace talks are taking to move forward in its nuclear program,” the official said, adding that Iran did not intend to halt its nuclear program.

The official reiterated Israel’s three demands of Tehran: that Iran stop the enrichment of uranium, remove enriched uranium from its country and dismantle its uranium enrichment facility near Qoms.

Israel only believes that diplomacy can work if these three demands are met.

Friday’s report by the IAEA showed Iran was pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work in defiance of Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend the activity.

It said Iran had produced almost 6.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5% since it began the work in 2007 – some of which has subsequently been further processed into higher-grade material.

This is nearly 750 kilograms more than in the previous IAEA report issued in February, and ISIS said Iran’s monthly production had risen by roughly a third.

“This total amount of 3.5% low enriched uranium hexafluoride, if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons,” ISIS said in its analysis.

It added, however, that some of Iran’s higher-grade uranium had been converted into reactor fuel and would not be available for nuclear weapons, at least not quickly.

Friday’s IAEA report also said environmental samples taken in February at Iran’s Fordow facility – buried deep beneath rock and soil to protect it from air strikes – showed the presence of particles with enrichment levels of up to 27%.

Iran’s permanent representative to the body played down the findings, saying some Western media sought to turn a technical issue into a political one.

“This matter is a routine technical discussion that is currently being reviewed by experts,” IRNA quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying.

The IAEA report suggested it was possible that particles of uranium enriched to higherthan- declared levels could be the result of a technical phenomenon.

Experts say that while it is embarrassing for Iran, there is no real cause for concern.

The UN agency also said satellite images showed “extensive activities” at the Parchin military complex, which inspectors want to check over suspicions that research relevant to nuclear weapons was done there.

After talks in Tehran last week, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said the two sides were close to an agreement to let inspectors resume investigations into suspected nuclear explosive experiments in Iran.

Iran began enriching uranium to a fissile concentration of 20% in 2010, saying it needed this to fuel a medical research reactor.

It later expanded the work sharply by launching enrichment at Fordow.

It alarmed a suspicious West since such enhanced enrichment accomplishes much of the technical leap toward 90% – or weapons-grade – uranium.

Central to the talks in Baghdad were attempts to get Iran to halt enrichment to 20%, in exchange for measures to ease sanctions and assistance with safety at its nuclear plants.

Iran demanded world powers expressly confirm its right to enrich uranium.

Iran has installed more than 50% more enrichment centrifuges at Fordow, the IAEA report said. Although not yet being fed with uranium, the new machines could be used to further boost Iran’s output of uranium enriched to 20%.

ISIS said Iran still appeared to be experiencing problems in its testing of production-scale units of more advanced centrifuges that would allow it to refine uranium faster, even though it had made some progress.

Some uranium particles enriched to 27% and discovered by IAEA inspectors could be the result of a transient condition that can occur when the material is fed into centrifuges, according to two senior international officials familiar with the investigation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

The IAEA found Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to less than 5% grew to 6,232 kilograms from 5,451 kilograms reported in February. Its official report will be released formally on June 4 when the IAEA’s 35- member board of governors convenes in Vienna.

Jerusalem Post

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