Alleged studies now the focus in Iran

28 May 2008

Iran has continued to enrich uranium in defiance of UN Security Council demands, but the most serious questions for the country now concern research not closely related to nuclear power.


ElBaradei 26 May 2008 (Dean Calma / IAEA) 
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei
(Image Dean Calma / IAEA)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that no materials under its surveillance had been diverted from civil use to military use, and that installation of further uranium enrichment centrifuges had continued.


So far, Iran has fed 3970 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into enrichment cascades at Natanz and achieved enrichment levels of 4.0% uranium-235. This is consistent with its stated aim of producing nuclear electricity, whereas enrichment levels of 90% or more would be required to make a uranium-based weapon. In total the country now has 320 tonnes of UF6, all of which is under IAEA safeguards.


Using satellite imagery, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has continued to construct the IR-40 heavy water reactor. The agency has found that test fuel pellets for the unit have been made, but essential equipment for their manufacture into fuel assemblies is still lacking. This reactor is a concern because it could produce plutonium suitable for compression by high-explosives in a more advanced nuclear weapon. Iran maintains the reactor is meant for peaceful research only.


IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei is to presented the report to the agency's board of directors on 2 June. It has already been forwarded to the UN Security Council and made available at its request.


Alleged studies


The IAEA's main concerns now lie with matters not closely related to the enrichment program or any actual nuclear materials. A number of documents are in IAEA posession, or have been seen by the agency, that appear to give details on research and preparation suitable only for nuclear weapons. The latest report said the documents were provided by "several member states" and gave more detail on them than has been available before.


These documents concern a uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) production setup, uranium metal, precision high explosives testing, underground testing arrangements, and a missile re-entry vehicle. One of them is the curriculum vitae of an employee which includes a nuclear blast calculation formula and photographs of the USA's Trinity nuclear weapons test. Iran said all the documents are fake.


The IAEA is seeking answers on the documents and the status of eight projects uncovered by them in order to characterise the Iranian nuclear program, past and future.

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