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Iran Rejects Inspector Concerns While Tripling Uranium

Iran Dismissed IAEA Concerns
A security guard outside the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Photographer: Sajad Safari/Document IRAN via Bloomberg

Iran tripled its production of enriched uranium and rejected the international concerns about its possible pursuit of nuclear weapons that a team of United Nations inspectors carried to Tehran this week.

Amid rising tensions about its nuclear research, Iran “dismissed the agency’s concerns,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said today in an 11-page restricted document obtained by Bloomberg News. “Iran considered them to be based on unfounded allegations,” according to the document.

The report, distributed to IAEA member states, was published three days after inspectors’ talks with Iran broke down. The inspectors said Iran has increased the number of machines it’s using to enrich uranium at its Natanz complex by 14 percent and has begun enriching material at its underground Fordo complex near the holy city of Qom.

Iran is now making almost 31 pounds (14 kilograms) of 20 percent-enriched uranium a month compared with almost nine pounds (4 kilograms) in November, according to the report.

“Iran has continued to pursue its uranium enrichment program in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions without demonstrating any credible or legitimate purpose for doing so,” Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said today in an e-mailed statement.

‘Continued Stonewalling’

“Combined with its continued stonewalling of international inspectors, Iran’s actions demonstrate why Iran has failed to convince the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful,” he said.

Allegations about Iran’s possible military ambitions have led to economic sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking industries. The U.S. and Israel haven’t ruled out air strikes against the country’s atomic facilities, escalating tensions in a region that’s home to 54 percent of global oil reserves.

Oil climbed for a seventh day, the longest streak of advances since January 2010, as conflict with Iran threatens supplies and on signs of a global economic recovery.

Crude oil April delivery rose $1.94, or 1.8 percent, to $109.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since May 3. The front-month contract increased 6.3 percent this week. Crude’s seven-day advance was the longest since the period ended Jan. 6, 2010.

IAEA Questions

Iran may be able to stockpile as much as 638 pounds of 20 percent enriched uranium, said Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in a Feb. 15 telephone call.

That’s enough to make as many as two nuclear weapons if Iran decided to continue enriching to weapons-grade, which is 90 percent, according to Heinonen, who as the IAEA’s chief inspector visited Iranian facilities until 2010.

The IAEA, while verifying that Iran hasn’t diverted declared uranium stocks, reiterated that the government in Tehran still hasn’t proved that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and European allies accuse Iran of seeking the ability to make nuclear weapons, while the Persian Gulf nation’s leaders say they seek only energy and industrial applications from nuclear technology.

No ‘Credible Assurances’

“The agency is unable to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” the IAEA reported.

The IAEA also said its investigators found a discrepancy of 44 pounds of raw uranium metal at an Iranian laboratory. Inspectors want Iranian officials to explain what happened to the material, which may have been used for testing before 2002, the senior officials said, adding that they were tipped off about the location of the metal by one IAEA member state.

The IAEA team also asked twice to investigate Iran’s Parchin military complex, where information received by the agency points to high-explosive testing that could be used to trigger a nuclear weapon. While Iran didn’t categorically reject the IAEA’s request, inspectors were disappointed that the mid-level officials they met with weren’t empowered to make a decision, the officials said.

The U.S. is calling on Iran to “come into full compliance with UN Security Council resolutions by suspending its enrichment program and providing full and genuine transparency to the IAEA,” said Vietor. “If it refuses to shift course, its isolation from the international community will only continue to grow.”

Bomb Timeline

U.S. intelligence officials fear that Iran may be developing the different components of a nuclear weapon in scattered facilities, including Parchin and other military bases where it hasn’t permitted IAEA inspections, said a U.S. official who spoke only on the basis of anonymity because intelligence matters are classified.

U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Iran could assemble a nuclear weapon in as little as two months if it succeeded in making all the components, enough weapons-grade uranium and a nuclear-capable missile or other delivery vehicle, said the official, who participated in the analysis.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today said Russia opposes Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability because it would endanger global stability.

“We don’t need to expand the nuclear club, and we’re against this,” Putin said in the Russian city of Sarov. “It would lead to greater risks to international stability.”

Iran’s Demands

The IAEA inspectors’ talks with Iranian officials broke down after Iran insisted on imposing rules on the investigation, said two international officials with knowledge of the IAEA’s investigation. The officials weren’t allowed to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Iran dismissed the agency’s concerns in a 15-page letter rejecting a Nov. 8 IAEA report that outlined “credible” information pointing to nuclear-weapons work.

Iran began enriching uranium with more than 300 new centrifuges at Fordo, the underground site where the country is shifting production of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The centrifuges at Iran’s underground Natanz enrichment hall grew to 9,156 from 8,000 in November, according to the report.

Low-enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants and Iran has said the 20 percent enriched uranium is for use in a reactor producing medical isotopes.

Uranium Stockpiles

Iran increased its supply of 20 percent-enriched uranium to almost 240 pounds from just over 162 pounds reported in November, the IAEA said. Iran has produced almost 12,000 pounds of uranium enriched to less than 5 percent compared to slightly more than 10,828 pounds in the last IAEA report.

About 1,386 pounds of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the 33 pounds to 48 pounds of weapons-grade uranium an expert bomb maker needs to make a weapon, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA funded by European governments.

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