Iran moves nuclear enrichment programme to underground bunker


Iran has begun efforts to shift its nuclear enrichment programme to an underground bunker where experts warn it could stage a last dash for a nuclear weapon


Installation of centrifuge and other manufacturing equipment was at a preparatory stage at Fowrdow, a facility deep inside a mountain near Qom, the country’s holiest city, intelligence reports said.

Tehran disclosed the existence of Fordow, which is designed to withstand air and missile strikes, after Western intelligence detected the covert nuclear plant.

“They are preparing (for the centrifuges to be installed) in Fordow,” a diplomat briefed on the latest intelligence said.

Fereidoun Abbasi, the head of the Iranian nuclear programme, earlier this month said Iran would triple output of uranim enriched to 20 per cent, the threshold level from which a nuclear bomb – made from material enriched to 90 per cent – is relative easy to produce.

Since it raised the level of enrichment from the 3.5 per cent purity needed for normal power plant fuel to 20 per cent last year it has produced 56.7 kilogrammes, UN weapons inspectors have reported. That is about half the amount needed for a weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been notified of Iran’s plans to start operation enrichment centrifuges at Fordow “by this summer” has expressed concern over continuing access to the facility.

The IAEA reported that by May 21 no centrifuges – cylindrical machines that spin at supersonic speeds to enrich uranium – had been introduced into the facility.

Intelligence reports point to Iranian scientists installing 3,000 centrifuges at the site to achieve its goals. It has almost three times as many installed at Natanz, many of which have been disabled by sabotage.

Leading experts believe that the shift to the mountain facility would increase the danger of Iran successfully launching a final push to make a bomb.

“We see Iran moving in the direction of becoming a nuclear weapons capable state,” said Olli Heinonen, a former head of UN nuclear inspections worldwide.

Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in an American newspaper this week that Iran would need less that three months to turn the enriched uranium into weapons grade material at Fordow.

“That it claims to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring is not a safeguard,” he warned. “Iran has a persistent record of evasion and obfuscation with the IAEA.”

But Iran’s foreign minister, who is in Vienna for nuclear talks, said that the country had disavowed nuclear weapons.

“Our Supreme Leader has explained that the production and use of atomic weapons is wrong, not only in terms of foreign policy but on religious grounds,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said.

Iran says it needs 20 per cent uranium to make fuel for a medical research reactor near Tehran after the failure of talks on a deal that would have seen foreign countries supply the material.

A nine page IAEA report in May said new intelligence passed to the organisation indicated Iran was involved in studies on uranium conversion, high explosives testing and the adaptation of a ballistic missile cone that would only be useful to the production of a nuclear warhead.

The body said it had “received further information related to such possible undisclosed nuclear-related activities”.

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