Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Iran has Built 5,000 Centrifuges
Iran has secretly built thousands of centrifuge machines for its nuclear plant at Natanz, an exiled opposition figure alleged. The claims by opposition figure Alireza Jafarzadeh could not be independently verified, but if confirmed, they would likely enflame the worsening standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

The new allegations came hours after Iran resumed sensitive nuclear research after a two-year suspension, triggering fierce Western condemnation and risking censure by the UN Security Council.

Jafarzadeh, citing what he said was intelligence from the Iranian opposition and sources within the Iranian nuclear program, said Tehran had already committed serious violations before Tuesday.

"Iran has already manufactured as many as 5,000 centrifuge machines ready to be installed in Natanz, which is a clear breach of its agreements with the IAEA and the EU," Jafarzadeh, former spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said at a press conference here. READ MORE

He said Iran had been continually building underground centrifuge cascade installation platforms at Natanz which could be used in the process of enriching uranium on a large scale suitable for a nuclear bomb.

Jafarzadeh released information in 2002 which amounted to the first outside glimpse into the Iranian nuclear program and which triggered International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scrutiny.

He said that work at Natanz was now so advanced that construction could be finished by the middle of this year, though it was unclear when installation of enrichment facilities would be complete.

"The 5,000 centrifuge machines are going to be installed in underground cascade halls. ... All of this has been going on while supposedly the program has been under freeze," he said.

Iran said Tuesday it was removing the seals on several nuclear operations, including a small 164-centrifuge cascade at Natanz -- which in itself would not be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon.

But it said enrichment remained frozen. Tehran denies that it is seeking a nuclear weapon, and it has been trying to draw a distinction between research into the fuel cycle and actual production of enriched uranium.

Paul Leventhal, president of the independent Nuclear Control Institute research group, appeared alongside Jafarzadeh at the press conference and called on the IAEA to act to see if his claims were true.

"If the information obtained by the Iranian opposition can be verified, ... then we have a major crisis on our hands," he said.

"Can such a remarkable allegation be true? There is only one way to find out. IAEA inspectors now standing at the Natanz site should demand immediate access to the areas where these secret activities allegedly are taking place."

Robert Einhorn, an independent expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was not linked to the press conference, said Jafarzadeh had a mixed accuracy record on Iran's nuclear program.

"His organisation was on target in the summer of 2002. Without information from his organisation, we would largely be in the dark today on Iran's nuclear program.

"Having said that, his organisation's batting average over the last three years or so has not been very good," said Einhorn, who served as assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation between 1999 and August 2001.

"There is no way to evaluate the credibility of this information unless it is backed up by specific information on the whereabouts of the manufacture of these 5,000 centrifuge machines, and so on."

Einhorn did say, however, that the existence of such equipment would "be a large-scale violation of Iran's commitment to the Europeans and the IAEA board to suspend all manufacture of these centrifuge machines."

Jafarzadeh said military companies linked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had built most of the alleged centrifuge parts but could not exactly pinpoint their location.

"The 5,000 centrifuges, I don't know exactly where they are. It is conceivable that some or all of them are already in Natanz," he said.