Iran increasing enrichment capacity, U.N. says

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani holds his first press conference since taking office at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. CBS/AP

VIENNA The U.N.'s atomic energy agency says Iran has prepared more than 1,000 advanced uranium enriching machines to be started up. The move raises concerns among countries that think Tehran wants to make nuclear arms.

A report released Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has put 1,008 of the advanced centrifuges under vacuum. Such a move is normally one of the last steps before the machines start spinning uranium gas into the material that can be used either as reactor fuel or as the core of nuclear warheads, depending on its enrichment level.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for peaceful purposes and does not want nuclear arms.

Iran already is running more than 15,000 older machines. The new centrifuges are three to four times more effective.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani holds his first press conference since taking office at the presidency compound in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 6, 2013.
AP

The report was released hours after diplomats said Iran and the IAEA had agreed to restart talks focused on the agency's attempts to probe suspicions that Tehran worked on atomic weapons. This would be the first such meeting since Iran's hard-line president was replaced by a more moderate successor, Hasan Rouhani.

The diplomats told The Associated Press that the negotiations will resume Sept. 27, with the main focus on gaining access to a section of a military site that the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency has long tried to access.

Before the talks were suspended earlier this year, IAEA experts met Iranian negotiators 10 times over 18 months in futile efforts to start their probe of the area in question at the , southeast of Tehran. The agency suspects that the location was used by the Islamic Republic to test conventional explosive triggers for a nuclear blast. Iran denies working on atomic weapons at Parchin or anywhere else and says its nuclear program is peaceful.

  • With no new date announced for the resumption of broader nuclear talks between Iran and five world powers on hold, the meeting on Parchin will be the first test of centrist President Hasan Rouhani's pledge to reduce confrontation with the international community over its atomic activities.

    Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran blamed the IAEA for the standoff over Parchin, saying it is caused by the agency's refusal to agree on strict parameters that would govern its probe. The agency in turn says such an agreement would tie its hands by putting limits on what it could look for and whom it could question. It bases its suspicions of nuclear-weapons research and development by Iran on its own research and intelligence from the U.S., Israel and other Iran critics.

    IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told reporters earlier this year he was concerned about satellite images showing asphalt work, soil removal, and "possible dismantling of infrastructures" at Parchin. Iran says such activities are part of regular construction that has nothing to do with alleged attempts to cleanse the area of evidence. But Amano said that because of such activities, "it may no longer be possible to find anything even if we have access to the site."

    The two Vienna-based diplomats are experts on nuclear issues. They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the date of the meeting before official announcements by the IAEA or Iran.

    They spoke just hours ahead of the release of the latest IAEA report documenting advances of Iran's nuclear program. The report revealed, as the Diplomats predicted, that Iran has substantially increased the number of its centrifuges — the machines that spin uranium gas into the material that can be used either for reactor fuel or to arm warheads, depending on the level of enrichment. Iran has produced only fuel-grade enriched uranium. But that can be further enriched to weapons-grade material, and more centrifuges translate into increases in Iran's enriched stockpile.

    Concerns have increased since Iran started installing advanced centrifuges, whose enrichment rate is up to four times higher than the machines it is now using.

    The last IAEA report in May said Tehran had installed close to 700 high-tech IR2-m centrifuges, without making moves to start them up. It also said Tehran had added hundreds of older-generation machines at its main enrichment site to bring the total number to more than 13,000.

    One of the diplomats said that beyond increases in numbers, the recent report will be scrutinized to see if any of the modern machines had been put under vacuum — a prelude to operating them — since the May report. He said that — because the IR2's are faster than the older machines — such a move would be of concern to nations worried that Iran is expanding its enrichment capacity because it wants to use the program to make weapons-grade uranium.

    The May report noted that much work needed to be done at the reactor site, but it said Iranian technicians there already had taken delivery of a huge reactor vessel to contain the facility's fuel. It also detailed progress in Tehran's plans to manufacture and test the fuel.

    U.S. intelligence officials say they generally stand by a 2007 intelligence assessment that asserts Iran stopped comprehensive secret work on developing nuclear arms in 2003. But Britain, France, Germany, Israel and other U.S. allies think such activities have continued past that date. That view is shared by the IAEA, which says some isolated and sporadic activities may be ongoing.

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