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

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid