News / Middle East

Diplomats: Iran Acts to Expand Sensitive Nuclear Capacity

 Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013. Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
x
 Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
Reuters
— A U.N. nuclear agency report due this week is expected to show Iran further increasing its capacity to produce material that its adversaries fear could eventually be used to develop atomic bombs, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.

But they said it also is likely to indicate that growth in Iran's most sensitive nuclear stockpile has been held back because some of it has been used for reactor fuel, potentially providing more time for diplomacy between Iran and major powers.

Tehran's holding of medium-enriched uranium gas is closely watched in the West as Israel, which has threatened air strikes if diplomacy and sanctions do not stop Iran's atomic drive, says Iran must not amass enough for one bomb if further processed.

Critics say Iran is trying to achieve the capability to make atomic arms. Iran denies this, saying it needs nuclear power for energy generation and medical purposes and that it is Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal that threatens regional peace.

The next quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], expected on Wednesday, is likely to show continued installation of the centrifuges used for enriching uranium, diplomats said.

That would include an advanced model known as IR-2m, which once operational, would enable Iran to sharply speed up its accumulation of refined uranium that can have both civilian and military purposes.

The number of IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings that have been put in place at Iran's main enrichment site near the town of Natanz is expected to have risen significantly since February, when it stood at 180, they said.

Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s-vintage IR-1 machines it now uses, but introducing new models has been dogged by technical hurdles and difficulty in obtaining key parts abroad.

“We expect that they've continued to install more advanced centrifuges at Natanz,” said one diplomat.

Another Western envoy said Iran also was believed to be pressing ahead in the construction of a research reactor, which  experts say could offer it a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course.

Nuclear analysts say the type of reactor that Iran is building near the town of Arak could yield plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed, something Iran has said it has no intention of doing.

Nuclear stockpile

Diplomats also will scrutinize the IAEA report for what it has to say about Iran's possession of medium-enriched uranium as this represents a technical threshold relatively close to the level required for nuclear bombs.

Since Iran in 2010 began processing uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, it has produced more than the 240-250 kg that would be needed for one bomb, if refined more.

But while the stockpile has expanded, Iran still has kept it below Israel's stated “red line” by converting a large part of the uranium gas into oxide powder in order, Tehran says, to yield fuel for a medical research reactor in the capital.

As a result, the increase in the holding of 20 percent gas has been less than the production. In February, the stockpile was 167 kg, a rise of roughly 18-19 kg since the previous report in December, but a significant slowdown from a 50-percent jump in the previous three-month period.

“It seems that they are converting nearly all the material that they are producing,” said a Western official.

But while the uranium conversion activity may postpone any decision by Israel on whether to strike Iranian nuclear sites, Western diplomats made clear Tehran must do much more in order to allay suspicions about its atomic program.

Turning uranium gas into oxide powder in order to make fuel plates also may be just a temporary positive development because the process is possible to reverse, Western experts say.

The six world powers involved in diplomacy with Iran - the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and China - want it to stop refining uranium to 20 percent and suspend work at the underground Fordow site where most of this work is pursued.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid