- By Region
Iran almost doubled its stockpile of more highly enriched uranium, which is close to weapons grade, in three months from February, in a development that will intensify international alarm over the nature of its programme.
Tehran’s stock of uranium enriched to a concentration of 20 per cent doubled to 145kg from 73.7kg in February, according the International Atomic Energy Agency’s quarterly report, released on Friday.
IAEA inspectors also reported that they had found “the presence of particles” of 27 per cent-enriched uranium at Iran’s Fordow facility. That takes it across the line from low-enriched to high-enriched uranium.
It is “significantly” above the threshold level, one diplomat familiar with the issue said, adding that a “number” of such particles had been discovered and that further samples were taken earlier this month to see whether the find was confirmed.
Iran maintained the particles were a result of “technical reasons beyond the operator’s control,” and the Vienna-based agency says it is looking into the matter.
Uranium enriched over 20 per cent is very close to the 90 per cent level needed for a bomb.
The IAEA report was released a day after talks between Tehran and the six powers – the US, EU, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – over the future of Iran’s nuclear programme ended without progress. They will meet again in Moscow on June 18.
Iran says its production of 20 per cent enriched uranium is aimed at creating medical isotopes for cancer cures. However, western governments say Iran has manufactured a stock of 20 per cent uranium that would more than satisfy this purpose for many years.
The IAEA also found Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to less than 5 per cent grew to 6,232kg from 5,451kg reported in February.
The number of centrifuges, the fast-spinning machines that purify the heavy metal, installed at Iran’s fuel-fabrication plant in Natanz, about 300km south of Tehran, rose to 9,330 compared with 9,156 in February. Machines at the Fordo facility, built into the side of a mountain, rose to over 500 from 300 in the last report.
Although not yet being fed with uranium, the new machines could be used to further expand Iran’s output of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 per cent, the part of the country’s nuclear programme that most worries the west.
The agency also said satellite images showed “extensive activities” at the Parchin military complex, south-east of Tehran, which inspectors want to check over suspicions that nuclear weapons-relevant research was done there.
The “activities” could hamper the IAEA’s inquiry, it said – an allusion to what western diplomats have said may be Iranian efforts to remove incriminating evidence. Iran has denied pursuing a clear weapons capability there or anywhere else.
The IAEA told Iran in a letter sent this month that it needed “early access” to Parchin, the report said. Iran has repeatedly refused this, maintaining that Parchin is a solely conventional military base beyond the writ of inspectors.
The IAEA said it had urged Iran to expedite a final agreement to enable inspectors to resume their long-running investigation into suspected nuclear explosive experiments.
Yukiya Amano, the IAEA chief, had said earlier this week after talks in Tehran that the two sides were close to such a deal although “some differences” remained before it could be sealed.