IAEA: Iran increases nuclear program


By Adam Levine, with reporting from Matthew Chance

Iran has stepped up its enrichment of uranium in the months since international inspectors last visited, according to a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The report was sent to member nations on Friday and posted online by the Institute for Science and International Studies. The new IAEA report cites an increase in centrifuges used to enrich uranium, at the Fordow and Natanz sites, at both lower levels and to 20%, a key level of achievement if Iran decides to create nuclear weapons.

Iran has failed to cooperate with efforts to verify that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, Director General Yukiya Amano concluded in the report.

"The Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme," the report said.

Iranian officials refused to provide IAEA inspectors access to Parchin, a key military installation during a visit that ended Tuesday and dismissed the concerns of inspectors as based on "unfounded allegations," according to a copy of the report by Director General Yukiya Amano, which was published on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-profit group focused on nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

The IAEA found that between the November report and its current one, Iran added 3,000 centrifuges for a total of 9,000 at the Natanz facility in central Iran, according to Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and Security. More centrifuges mean more enrichment capability.

"That's a significant jump," he said.

Brannan described Iran's growing stockpile of the enriched uranium as a "major concern" and questioned why so much is needed.

"They stockpiled so much of it they can operate for over a decade," Brannan told CNN.

The 20% level is significant because nuclear experts believe further enrichment needed to create a material for a possible weapon is easy to achieve once one is capable of 20%.

But Brannan said Iran is likely to be deterred from increasing the enrichment because of international attention, noting that it would have a hard time not arousing suspicions of inspectors if it tried to keep them from the enrichment sites in the time it would take to further enrich.

Another analyst, however, played down the significance of the latest IAEA report. Joel Rubin with the U.S.-based Ploughshares Fund, a group devoted to seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons, said it is "not a game changer."

Rubin said there are still valid concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and program, but there is no indication the country has achieved a new "breakthrough."

"It's an update that - yes - Iran is doing things that we are not fully read into and we need to understand," Rubin said. "But Iran has not moved to a more advanced program."

Read Matthew Chance's story on the report here
Read about Parchin in our story "The site Iran doesn't want inspectors to see"