Tuesday, June 1, 2010

U.N. Says Iran Has Fuel for 2 Nuclear Weapons

In their last report before the United Nations Security Council votes on sanctions against Iran, international nuclear inspectors declared Monday that Iran has now produced a stockpile of nuclear fuel that experts say would be enough, with further enrichment, to make two nuclear weapons.

The report, by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a branch of the United Nations, appears likely to bolster the Obama administration’s case for a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran and further diminish its interest in a deal, recently revived by Turkey and Brazil, in which Iran would send a portion of its nuclear stockpile out of the country.

When Iran tentatively agreed eight months ago to ship some of its nuclear material out of the country, the White House said the deal would temporarily deprive Iran of enough fuel to make even a single weapon.

But Iran delayed for months, and the figures contained in the inspectors’ report on Monday indicated that even if Iran now shipped the agreed-upon amount of nuclear material out of the country, it would retain enough for a single weapon, undercutting the American rationale for the deal.

The toughly worded report says that Iran has expanded work at one of its nuclear sites. It also describes, step by step, how inspectors have been denied access to a series of facilities, and how Iran has refused to answer inspectors’ questions on a variety of activities, including what the agency called the “possible existence” of “activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”


It has been four years since the Security Council first demanded that Iran cease all enrichment of uranium, citing its efforts to hide its activities and deceive inspectors. The country has openly defied those resolutions, telling inspectors that those demands — along with calls to allow inspectors to visit a series of facilities that could be useful in energy or weapons production — had been “issued illegally and have no legal basis.”

The inspectors reported Monday that Iran has now produced over 5,300 pounds of low-enriched uranium, all of which would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be converted to bomb fuel.

The inspectors reported that Iran had expanded work at its sprawling Natanz site in the desert, where it is raising the level of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent — the level needed for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients. But it is unclear why Iran is making that investment if it plans to obtain the fuel for the reactor from abroad, as it would under its new agreement with Turkey and Brazil.

Until recently, all of Iran’s uranium had been enriched to only 4 percent, the level needed to run nuclear power reactors. While increasing that to 20 percent purity does not allow Iran to build a weapon, it gets the country closer to that goal. The inspectors reported that Iran had installed a second group of centrifuges — machines that spin incredibly fast to enrich, or purify, uranium for use in bombs or reactors — which could improve its production of the 20 percent fuel.

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