Iran's Key Nuclear Site Fully Equipped - IAEA
Iran is ready to boost significantly output at its most controversial nuclear plant, a new UN nuclear agency report showed Friday, taking Tehran closer - in theory - to being able to develop a nuclear weapon.
In findings likely to set alarm bells ringing in Israel and beyond, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the installation of equipment at its Fordo uranium enrichment plant was now "complete".
Also taking an interest will be the "P5+1" world powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany - thought to be about to resume talks in early next year at the latest now that the US election is over.
The agency report reiterated its regular statement meanwhile that it was "unable... to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities".
It also said that activities spotted by satellite at the Parchin military base, where the IAEA says it has evidence of possible past nuclear weapons research work, meant that any verification there would be "seriously undermined".
Iran denies working or ever having worked on a nuclear weapon and says all its atomic activities are peaceful.
If Iran uses the new machinery at Fordo to enrich uranium to purities of 20 percent -- technically speaking not far from the level needed for a bomb -- production could increase from 15 kilos per month now to around 45 kilos, a source familiar with the matter said.
Experts say that around 250 kilos of 20-percent uranium is needed to convert into enough 90-percent material for one nuclear weapon.
Deciding to "break out" and enrich to this level would however quickly be detected by the IAEA. Making a bomb also requires a whole range of other activities.
Since the last report in August, Iran has installed some 640 new centrifuges -- machines that enrich uranium gas by spinning it at supersonic speeds -- at Fordo, and a further 700 are "ready for feeding", the IAEA report said.
No new centrifuges were put into operation since the last report, however, the report said. Fordo is dug into a mountainside and therefore difficult to bomb.
Iran has however not yet informed the Vienna-based agency whether it intends to enrich uranium to 20-percent with the new centrifuges, or to the less alarming level of around five percent.
The report also said that Iran had converted some 40 percent of its around 230 kilos of 20-percent uranium into a form for use in a research reactor, making it much harder to convert for use in a weapon. The speed of doing so slowed significantly, however.
Many in the international community also worry that by the time Fordo is fully up and running, Iran will be producing far more 20-percent-enriched uranium than Iran's civilian nuclear activities can conceivably need.
Because of worries about Iran's aims, the UN Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment, including to lower levels, passing four rounds of sanctions.
Western nations have imposed additional sanctions that this year have begun to hit the Iranian economy hard.
A nuclear bomb needs more than uranium, and exactly a year ago the IAEA released a major report setting out a large body of "overall, credible" evidence suggesting activity in the other areas, at least until 2003 and possibly since, including at Parchin.
Twelve months on, and despite a string of fruitless meetings in Vienna and Tehran, Iran continues to reject the material in that report, dismissing them as forgeries provided by foreign intelligence services.
In September the head of Iran's atomic agency, in a speech at the IAEA's annual meeting of all member states, accused the UN body of being infiltrated by saboteurs and "terrorists".
A senior figure familiar the situation said Friday that as a result of Fereydoon Abbasi Davani's comments, IAEA inspectors in Iran were working under an "atmosphere of intimidation".
IAEA head Yukiya Amano expressed guarded optimism on Sunday that the next meeting, set for December 13 in the Iranian capital, would be more productive.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the chief P5+1 negotiator, is due to chair a meeting of top representatives from the six powers in Brussels on Wednesday, meanwhile.
The last time the P5+1 met with Iran was in Moscow in June, when Iran rejected demands to shut down Fordo and take other steps, mainly because the six countries did not offer sanctions relief.
Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-weapons state, has refused to rule out military action to stop Iran also getting the bomb.
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