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Iran Nuke Plant At Advanced Construction Stage

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Iran Nuke Plant At Advanced Construction Stage

Middle East

Iran Nuke Plant At Advanced Construction Stage

Iran Nuke Plant At Advanced Construction Stage

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A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency provides the first look inside a previously secret uranium enrichment facility in Iran. The facility's existence became known two months ago, and recently IAEA inspectors got to go inside. So far, the site lacks the essential technology to enrich uranium. Iran says it won't be ready for another two years.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We now have a better idea whats inside a recently revealed nuclear facility in Iran. United Nations nuclear inspectors have reported on their look around. The facility could enrich a small amount of uranium when its finished. Analysts say thats not enough for a power plant, but enough for a bomb. In response to that, Iran says, today, there is no proof that it has a nuclear weapons program. Yet, an Iranian official adds this: the facility sends a political message that the world will never stop Irans nuclear program.

Heres NPRs Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: The facility in question is located on a military base in the town of Fordow, about an hours drive south of Tehran. IAEA inspectors had an opportunity to visit the site for two days in late October. They were shown all areas of the plant, had an opportunity to take photos, and gathered environmental samples which could reveal the presence of uranium even in minute amounts.

The agencys report, which surfaced yesterday, says the facility is at an advanced stage of construction. But Jacqueline Shire, an analyst with the Institute for Science and International Security, points out that key elements have not yet been installed there.

Ms. JACQUELINE SHIER (Analyst, Institute for Science and International Security): There is no nuclear material at the facility and there are no centrifuges at the facility. The site is an advanced state of construction in preparation for centrifuges but there are no centrifuges there.

SHUSTER: Iran uses gas centrifuges to enrich uranium, and according to the IAEA, Iran intends to install only about 3,000 of them at Fordow. This is a much smaller number of centrifuges than are currently operating and being monitored at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. The Iranians have told the IAEA that they decided to build the Fordow facility as a secret backup to Natanz when the U.S. and Israel began threatening to attack Irans known nuclear sites.

But, says Jacqueline Shire, she doubts Irans claim that the Fordow facility is intended to make low-enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.

Ms. SHIRE: Three thousand centrifuges are not enough to produce fuel for a power reactor, but they are a tidy sum if what you want to do is slowly but surely accumulate enough uranium, possibly for a nuclear weapon.

SHUSTER: Iran continues to insist it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. The IAEA report also provides an up-to-date accounting of how much low enriched uranium has been produced at the Natanz facility. There are now nearly 9,000 centrifuges there, but according to the IAEA, less than half are enriching uranium.

Analysts have provided several explanations why that might be the case, from technical problems with the centrifuges to a dwindling supply of natural uranium. Gary Sick, an Iran analyst at Columbia University, sees another possible reason.

Dr. GARY SICK (Iran Analyst, Columbia University): Iran is deliberately slowing down and not enriching as fast as it could to send a political signal, which, if its true, it seems to be completely missed on this side of the Atlantic.

SHUSTER: Sick believes Iran may be trying to send a signal in this way because any time its nuclear negotiators agree openly to concessions with Europe or the U.S., hardliners in Tehran make it impossible to deliver on the concession.

Overall, the IAEA report concludes recent developments raise questions about whether there are other nuclear facilities in Iran that have been kept from prying agency eyes.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

INSKEEP: So, thats an update on a country that concerns much of the world right now.

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