Sunday, 18 November 2012

Iran reaches milestone at key nuclear plant

Iran is on the cusp of being able to triple output of nuclear material that, if further treated, could be used in the core of a bomb, a new UN atomic agency report showed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly update said that fitting out of the Fordo plant was now “complete” – despite extreme sanctions pressure.

Fordo, which Iran only told the IAEA about in 2009, began in 2011 to enrich uranium to purities of 20 percent, a process that lies at the heart of the international community’s concerns.

Enriched to this level, uranium can be used to produce medical isotopes – Iran’s stated intention – but when further enriched, a relatively easy process, it can go in a bomb.

If Iran uses the new machinery at Fordo to enrich uranium to 20-percent levels – it has not told the IAEA whether this is its aim technically – production could increase from 15 kilos per month now to around 45 kilos, a source said.

Experts say that around 250 kilos of 20-percent uranium is needed to convert into enough 90-percent material for one nuclear weapon.

However, deciding to “break out” and enrich to 90-percent would quickly be detected by the IAEA, likely sparking military action by Israel and the United States.

Making a bomb also requires a whole range of other activities such as working out how to get the fissile material to explode, and putting it in a warhead in a missile.

The IAEA’s findings “provide further troubling evidence that Iran is continuing to pursue sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and is slowly enhancing its nuclear weapons breakout potential,” analyst Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said.

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