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Friday, September 25, 2009

Iran has second enrichment plant, working on detonators

As has been widely reported in the international media on Friday, earlier this week Iran informed the IAEA that it has a second uranium enrichment facility in an undisclosed location whose existence has not been previously disclosed. Additionally, Iranian exiles from the opposition MEK party (which, by the way, the United States classifies as a terror organization!) have announced that Iran has two facilities just outside Tehran in which it is working on detonators for nuclear weapons. This is from an AP report in the Jerusalem Post:
The officials said that Iran revealed the existence of a second enrichment plant in a letter sent Monday to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.


The officials said that the letter contained no details about the location of the second facility, when it had started operations or the type and number of centrifuges it was running.

The government officials - one speaking from his European capital outside Vienna, the other a diplomat in Vienna from a country accredited to the IAEA - demanded anonymity because their information was confidential. One said he had seen the letter. The other told the AP that he had been informed about it by a UN official who had seen it.

While Iran's mainstay P-1 centrifuge is a decades-old model based on Chinese technology, it has begun experimenting with state-of-the art prototypes that enrich more quickly and efficiently than its old model.

UN officials familiar with the IAEA's attempts to monitor and probe Iran's nuclear activities have previously told the AP that they suspected Iran might be running undeclared enrichment plants.

The existence of a secret Iranian enrichment program built on black market technology was revealed seven years ago.

Since then the country has continued to expand the program with only a few interruptions as it works toward its aspirations of a 50,000-centrifuge enrichment facility at the southern city of Natanz.
My first question upon hearing this story (I heard it early Friday morning on the news here) was why would Iran disclose this now, a week before the P5 + 1 meeting? The answer is in the New York Times: The United States, Britain and France already knew about the facility and planned to disclose it to the G20 meeting starting in Pittsburgh on Friday, to inject a sense of urgency into the discussion about Iran.
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

In a statement from its headquarters in Vienna on Friday, the atomic agency confirmed that it had been told Monday by Iran that “a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country.”

The agency said it had requested more information about the plant and access to it as soon as possible. “The agency also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility,” said the statement said.
What do they mean by "no nuclear material has been introduced"? That they're not enriching uranium there? That seems rather odd. But that's apparently it. At least if you only read the first part of the Times article.
The newly discovered enrichment plant is not yet in operation, American officials said, but could be next year.
The Times also discloses the plant's location: Inside a mountain near the city of Qom, which is holy to Shiite Muslims. That location virtually ensures that if the plant is attacked, Iran will be able to incite Muslims around the world to violence by pointing to an attack on a Shiite Muslim holy site.

But later in the article, the Times seems less sure that the plant is not operational:
American officials said late Thursday that they believe the plant was designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuges, which enrich uranium for nuclear power plants — or, with additional enrichment, for bombs. That would be enough centrifuges to manufacture about one bomb’s worth of material a year, though it is unclear whether any of the centrifuges have been installed or turned on. Mr. Obama said Friday that “the size and type of the facility is inconsistent with that of a peaceful facility,” and he added that French, British and American intelligence about the plant had been provided to the I.A.E.A.

The I.A.E.A. statement said Iran had told the agency the new plant would enrich uranium to a level of 5 percent —high enough for nuclear fuel, but not nearly enough to make the fissile material for an atomic bomb. Iran assured the agency in its letter that “further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time,” the I.A.E.A. said.
Meanwhile, as noted above, the Washington Post cites Iranian exiles who have reported that Iran has two other facilities outside of Tehran where they are seeking to develop detonators for nuclear weapons.
There was no way to confirm the authenticity of Thursday's allegation. But previous MEK information has given Western intelligence agencies tips about some Iranian nuclear activities or provided details about research sites.

Mehdi Abrishamchi, an MEK activist, said that as far as he knew, no Western governments were aware of the existence of the two sites.


But Abrishamchi said the two sites house programs designed to research and produce high-explosive detonators for atomic bombs.

The information came from "dozens of sources at different levels of the Iranian regime's various organs" and was cross-checked with dozens more, he said in a statement.

Abrishamchi, a senior member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an MEK-run umbrella group, said the two sites were part of a complex known as METFAZ -- the Farsi acronym for Research Center for Explosion and Impact -- that apparently has been in operation for several years under the command of the Defense Ministry.

The first site, a research and administrative facility in eastern Tehran, was bought by the Defense Ministry under the name of Massoud Sadighi Divani, a senior ministry official, Abrishamchi said. Inside, scientists carry out computer simulations and other experiments to reach an effective design for high-explosive impact and penetration devices that could serve to detonate a nuclear weapon, he said.

The second site, about 20 miles to the east, is used to manufacture parts needed to construct the detonators, he said. Lying within a military zone with restricted access, it is surrounded by high concrete walls and includes tunnels dug into a nearby hill, he added.

Abrishamchi said the two sites basically continue work that was being done at Shian, a facility that was razed by Iranian authorities after being denounced by the MEK in 2003. He called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to try to inspect the sites as quickly as possible.
Between the facility near Qom being clearly 'not peaceful' and the two facilities working on detonators, it is difficult to deny that Iran wishes to develop nuclear weapons.

But with China refusing to go along with stronger sanctions, let alone military action, and time running out to stop Tehran, we are quickly moving into a crisis mode. On the one hand, the 'great powers' are wringing their hands unable to agree on what to do. On the other hand, in light of these new revelations can Israel, the only party apparently willing to go to war to stop Iran, be certain that it has all the intelligence information it needs to make the best possible strike against Iran? And will the United States at least allow Israel to reach Iran unimpeded?

Unfortunately, I don't have answers for you. But the uncertainty is increasing daily.


At 5:55 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

And, is Israel capable of doing the job?

At 7:29 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Netanyahu's warning should be heeded. If the world does not summon the will to confront the tyrants in Tehran, Israel must act.

Time is running out. What could go wrong indeed


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