Friday, April 07, 2006

UN Officials Find Evidence of Secret Uranium Enrichment Plant

Con Coughlin, Telegraph:
United Nations officials investigating Iran's nuclear programme say they have found convincing evidence that the Iranians are working on a secret uranium enrichment project that has not been officially declared.

Suspicions were raised after officials from the UN-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) travelled to Pakistan at the end of last year to interview A Q Khan, the atomic scientist who masterminded the successful development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal.

Khan is known to have sold Teheran the technical expertise to develop an atomic bomb, together with key components, such as sophisticated equipment for enriching uranium. During the interview with IAEA inspectors, Khan is said to have provided a full disclosure of the nuclear dossier he gave the Iranians. The inspectors compared Khan's material against the documentation the Iranians have so far provided.

"There are a number of glaring inconsistencies between what the Iranians are telling us and the information the IAEA got from Khan," said a diplomat closely involved in the IAEA's negotiations with Teheran. "Consequently the IAEA inspectors are now convinced that the Iranians have another, small-scale uranium processing and enrichment project that is being kept secret from the outside world." READ MORE

IAEA officials are trying to establish whether Iran has what they call "parallel" nuclear enrichment facilities, which they suspect are being developing at closed military bases around the country.

The current diplomatic crisis over Iran's uranium enrichment activity is centred on the uranium processing plant at Isfahan and the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. The existence of the latter facility, which will soon have the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons grade, was unknown until Iranian exiles disclosed its location in 2003.

Both these facilities, constructed to carry out industrial-scale nuclear enrichment, have been documented by IAEA inspectors, and would be easy targets for military action if the crisis between Teheran and the UN Security Council were to worsen.

UN officials believe that the Iranians have set up a parallel enrichment project that would enable them to continue with their uranium enrichment activity in the event of their other facilities being incapacitated by military action.

Suspicions have been raised by the discovery of a facility, at an unknown location, capable of producing "green salt". Iranian officials inadvertently submitted a document about its production in their declarations to IAEA inspectors on other aspects of their nuclear programme.

Green salt is similar to uranium that has been partially processed to weapons grade and no satisfactory explanation for its production has been given by Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

The other discovery that caused consternation for the IAEA was a set of drawings that show the Iranians are attempting to build what has been described as an enriched uranium hemisphere, a construction that is only used in the construction of atomic weapons. Iran refused to hand over the drawings.

"It all fits into a pattern of behaviour that suggests the Iranians have something to hide," said a senior diplomat attached to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.