Friday, September 25, 2009

Iran Discloses New Enrichment Plant

Friday, September 25, 2009
16:13 Mecca time, 13:13 GMT

Iran discloses new enrichment plant

Until now Natanz was known to be the only uranium enrichment facility in Iran

Iran has informed the UN nuclear watchdog that the country has a second uranium enrichment plant under construction.

Marc Vidricaire, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told Al Jazeera on Friday that Tehran had notified the body of the plant's existence in a letter earlier this week.

Iran was previously known to have one enrichment plant at Natanz, in central Isfahan province, which is under daily surveillance by IAEA inspectors.

"On 21 September, Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant was under construction in the country ... the enrichment level would be up to five per cent", Vidricaire said.

In response, the IAEA has requested that Tehran provide specific details, and expects access to the facility as soon as possible.

"This will allow us to assess safeguard verification requirements for the facility, but we understand that no nuclear material has been introduced as yet," Vidricaire said.

'Direct challenge'

Barack Obama, the US president, said that the new facility "demonstrates Iran's continued unwillingness to meet its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements".

"We expect the IAEA to immediately investigate the disturbing information and to report to the IAEA board of governors.

"Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility, without notifying the IAEA, represents a direct challenge to the basic compact of the centre of the non-proliferation regime."

The New York Times reported that the facility was being built inside a mountain near the city of Qom, where Iran's supreme leader and the country's influential clerical leadership are based.

Iran's ISNA news agency reported an unnamed source as saying it was similar "to the Natanz enrichment facility".

'Pilot plant'

Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds, reporting from the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, where world leaders are gathered to discuss the economic crisis, said the New York Times was reporting that Iran sent the letter to the IAEA after Western agents learnt of the facility's construction.

"They sent a very cryptic letter to the IAEA simply saying that a new 'pilot plant' was under construction but not providing any details of where it was or how many centrifuges were included," he said.

Reynolds said that the revelation would "cast a shadow" over talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 of the United States, Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany, which are scheduled to start on October 1.

"Perhaps it makes it less likely that anything will be achieved there," he said.

"And it will probably make it more likely that if there is no progress in those talks, if those talks fail, that additional sanctions will be applied to Iran."

'IAEA failure'

Iran is currently under UN sanctions for refusing to suspend enrichment and failing to clarify suspicions that its nuclear activity is aimed at developing atom bombs, not generating electricity as it says.

Speaking alongside Obama on Friday, Gordon Brown, the British prime minister said that he would not let the issue rest and said that he was prepared to push for "further and more stringent sanctions".

John Large, a nuclear engineer based in the UK, told Al Jazeera that the new facility showed that the international non-proliferation system, operated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, had simply failed.

"Once Iran develops the centrifuge technology, which it seems to have done, then it is a relatively straightforward step to transfer that technology into a production unit in another location," he said.

"That provides all sorts of opportunities for detouring material away from the main production plant ... [and] finishing to a nuclear weapons grade enrichment level at this new plant.

"The logic of Iran's enrichment programme, has been very much doubted, because it just simply doesn't have the civil nuclear reactor capacity to demand an enrichment programme that it has in place."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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