Iran May Be Erasing Nuclear Work Evidence, Analysts Say

Iran may be erasing evidence of nuclear weapons work at its Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by a Washington-based research institute.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Parchin site taken on April 9, compared with a previous image obtained on March 4, shows unidentified items lined up outside a rectangular building and what appears to be water flowing out of the same structure, Paul Brannan, an analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, said today in a phone interview.

Iran may be washing up inside the building or cleaning items outside because inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed an interest in visiting Parchin, Brannan and David Albright, the institute’s president, wrote in a statement on its website that shows the satellite images.

The U.S. and European Union are using economic sanctions to press Iran to abandon any military dimensions of its nuclear program, which its leaders say is intended solely for civilian energy and medical purposes. Representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia -- as well as Germany plan to meet with Iranian officials in Baghdad on May 23 for negotiations on the issue.

Iran probably became concerned about the building at Parchin after it was cited by the IAEA in a November report, Brannan said. The IAEA report said a building appeared to have been constructed at the complex “around a large cylindrical object.”

Alleged Testing

The IAEA cited information that Iran in 2000 placed at the location an “explosives containment vessel,” the type capable of being used for “hydrodynamic experiments” to test the type of high-explosives charge used to trigger a nuclear explosion. The agency said information from a member state in the early 2000s alleged that Iran was conducting high explosive testing, possibly in association with nuclear materials, at the Parchin military complex.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the institute’s analysis of the imagery. “This institute is a bit inexperienced,” Iran’s state-run Press TV said on its website, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. Nuclear activities “could not be cleaned” in the way the institute suggests, according to the report.

Albright, a nuclear physicist and former international weapons inspector, has advised the IAEA and researched nuclear programs by Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Past Coverups

Brannan, a nuclear analyst who works on satellite imagery, said Iran has had a pattern of removing evidence of suspected nuclear weapons work.

“Iran rehabilitated the Kalaye Electric” facility that was suspected of being a research and development site for centrifuge work, Brannan said.

Another suspected site, at Lavizan, was torn down and Iran “even removed the top soil” and converted the facility into a soccer field, saying that the demolition was the result of a municipal dispute with the city of Tehran, Brannan said.

“It’s a pattern of behavior,” he said. “Iran realizes that the international community has learned of some activity, and instead of talking about it they try to remove the evidence.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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