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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Iran has another secret nuke channel

Zev Schiff reports in HaAretz today that intelligence services in the West are convinced that Iran is using covert means to develop nuclear weapons, in addition to the nuclear program under the partial supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Russian intelligence apparently agrees with this assessment.

The intelligence assessments reflect the conclusions that have been drawn in the past few years in the United States, Europe and Israel. Until now, most of the publications about Iran's nuclear program mentioned sites in Isfahan, Natanz, Arak and Tehran. The intelligence sources say these belong to the acknowledged part of the program and claim there is a secondary, smaller covert channel that is making steady progress toward creating a nuclear weapon for Iran.

A few intelligence services reportedly have information about these secret plants. Experts say that some of the facilities are about the same size as the secret structures built by the Pakistanis as part of their nuclear weapons program.

Some of the evidence of Iran's secret activities was mentioned in the IAEA's interim reports in recent months. The most suspicious item is a document found in Iranian possession that includes technical details about casting enriched and depleted uranium into hemispheres. This casting process is associated specifically with nuclear weapons production, as stated in the IAEA interim report of February 27. The report added that the existence of the document is disturbing.

According to experts, the document is unequivocal proof that Iran's nuclear project is involved in weapons production.


When asked by IAEA inspectors about the document, the Iranians declared that it had come from Pakistan but that they had never used it. The source of the document, as well as the centrifuges that Iran uses to enrich uranium, is apparently the network established by Pakistani nuclear arms pioneer Abdul Khader Khan, who admitted to assisting a number of Islamic countries with their nuclear programs.

Iran repeatedly refused to give the document, or a copy of it, to the IAEA.

The clandestine facility in Tehran's suburbs called Lavizan-Shian is another element attesting to Iran's nuclear ambitions. The site contains a nuclear development facility that was seen on the satellite photographs of IAEA and a number of states. The images revealed evidence of new excavation activity designed to conceal the underground facility. Later photographs showed only trees and gardens there.

Iran admitted to the West that a project is being carried out at the site, which it said was aimed at researching anti-nuclear defensive measures. At some point it became clear that the Iranian Defense Ministry had sold the facility to a private company, but control was transferred back to the ministry soon after. IAEA officials who asked to meet the facility's director were introduced to a university professor.

The uranium mine in Gauchin provides additional proof of the clandestine nuclear program. In the 1990s, Iranian publications announced that the mine was transferred from the Iranian Energy Committee to a private company. A few years later, a transfer back to the IEC - in effect, the Defense Ministry - was announced. The IAEA suspects that the private company is connected to the state military establishment.

The advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment that the Iranians are thought to possess are another part of the evidence. It is known that Iran purchased P1 centrifuges, made of aluminum. IAEA inspectors found documents on the faster and more advanced P2 centrifuges. The Iranians told the inspectors that they had not purchased the centrifuges. However, there is proof that Iran did buy a large number of magnets used in the P2 models.

The Iranians admitted about three years ago to separating small quantities of plutonium, which is clearly associated with atomic arms development.

(The materials needed to build an atomic bomb can be acquired either by enriching uranium or by producing plutonium.) Inspectors who examined the plutonium concluded, judging from the amounts found, that the Iranians must have started creating the plutonium in the mid-1990s and not three years ago.

Read the whole thing.


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