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Iran increases underground nuclear capacity sharply: diplomats

VIENNA | Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:04am EDT

(Reuters) – A U.N. watchdog report is expected to show that Iran has expanded its potential capacity to refine uranium in an underground site by at least 30 percent since May, diplomats say, adding to Western worries over Tehran‘s nuclear aims.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due this week to issue its latest quarterly report on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West and Israel suspect is aimed at developing bombs. Tehran denies this.

Language used by some Israeli politicians has fanned speculation that Israel might hit Iran’s nuclear sites before the November U.S. presidential vote. Washington has said there is still time for diplomatic pressure to work, but it could be drawn into any war between the two Middle East foes.

The Vienna-based diplomats, giving details on what they believe the IAEA report will show, said Iran had completed installation of two more cascades – interlinked networks of 174 centrifuges each – since the previous IAEA report in May.

They said Iran may also have added centrifuges in another part of the fortified Fordow facility, buried deep inside a mountain to better protect it against any enemy strikes, but they gave no details.

Fordow, where Iran is refining uranium to a level that takes it significantly closer to weapons-grade material, is built to house roughly 3,000 centrifuges – machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the fissile concentration.

The May report said Iran had installed a total of 1,064 centrifuges, of which 696 were operating, in some six cascades. The diplomats said Iran has since added at least another 328, a jump of about 30 percent from the May figure, and perhaps more.

Iran says it needs this higher-grade uranium for a medical research reactor in Tehran. It is enriching uranium to lower levels at its main such plant in Natanz, where diplomats say it is also installing more centrifuges.

While the newly added centrifuges at Fordow are not yet operating, the expansion reaffirmed Iranian defiance of international demands to suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses depending on refinement level.

“There is reason to be concerned by increased tempo of enrichment, the larger stockpile of enriched uranium and, most importantly, the additional centrifuges installed in the deeply-buried facility at Fordow,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think-tank.

It may reinforce the belief in Israel that diplomatic and economic pressure is failing to make the Islamic Republic curb its uranium enrichment program.

Iran denies allegations it seeks a nuclear weapons capability and says all its atom work is for peaceful purposes. It has threatened wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday told heads of state from developing countries at a meeting in Tehran that the country has no interest in nuclear weapons but will keep pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

IAEA has "serious concerns" as Iran boosts nuclear work

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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA | Mon Mar 5, 2012 7:36am EST

(Reuters) – Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has “serious concerns” about possible military dimensions to Tehran‘s atomic activities, the agency’s chief said on Monday.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors about the lack of progress in two rounds of talks between the Vienna-based U.N. agency and Tehran this year.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to meet shortly in Washington to discuss Iran, deeply at odds over the timing for possible last-resort military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Even though Obama offered assurances of stiffened U.S. resolve against Iran before the White House meeting, the two allies remained far apart over explicit nuclear “red lines” that Tehran should not be allowed to cross.

Iran denies suspicions that it is covertly seeking nuclear weapons capability, in part by coordinating efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.

But its refusal to curb sensitive atomic work that can have both civilian and military applications has drawn increasingly tough U.N. and Western sanctions against the major oil producer.

During the meetings in the Iranian capital in January and February, Iranian officials stonewalled the IAEA’s requests for access to a military site seen as central to its investigation into the nature of the Islamic state’s nuclear activity.

“The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” Amano told the closed-door meeting, according to a copy of his speech.

NO CREDIBLE ASSURANCES

The IAEA “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” he added.

A report by the IAEA to member states last month said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears that tensions between Tehran and the West could boil over into military conflict.

Since the IAEA’s previous report in November, Amano said Iran has tripled monthly production of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent – well above the level usually needed to run nuclear power plants.

Though indicated by the IAEA’s confidential report last month, it was the first time Amano spoke in public about this rapid increase in Iran’s enrichment activities, which has stoked Western and Israeli suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear agenda.

The Islamic Republic says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a Tehran reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.

But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, also represents most of the technical effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.

Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran’s underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and further expansion is planned.

Despite intensive discussions with Iran, Amano said, there had been no agreement on a “structured approach” to resolve outstanding issues with its nuclear program during the talks held in January and February.

Iran “did not address the agency’s concerns in a substantive manner,” Amano said.

Making clear, however, that he would keep trying to engage Iran on the issue, he added: “Regarding future steps, the agency will continue to address the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and in a constructive spirit.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran Holds Air Defense Drills As IAEA Says Iran Blocks Access To Key Nuclear Site

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Submitted by Tyler Durden on 02/21/2012 22:59 -0500

As if the market needed another bizarro catalyst to ramp even higher courtesy of an even more pronounced drop in corporate earnings courtesy of soaring energy costs, that is just what it is about to get following news of further deterioration in the Nash equilibrium in Iran, where on one hand we learn that IAEA just pronounced Iran nuclear talks a failure (this is bad), and on the other Press TV reports that the Iran army just started a 4 day air defense exercise in a 190,000 square kilometer area in southern Iran (this is just as bad). The escalation “ball” is now in the Western court. And if Iraq is any indication, after IAEA talks “failure” (no matter how grossly manipulated by the media), the aftermath is usually always one and the same…

From The Guardian:

The UN nuclear agency has declared its latest inspection visit to Iran a failure, with the regime blocking access to a key site suspected of hosting covert nuclear weapon research and no agreement reached on how to resolve other unanswered questions.

The statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency was issued shortly after an Iranian general warned of a pre-emptive strike against any nation that threatens Iran.

“We engaged in a constructive spirit but no agreement was reached,” the statement quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying.

The communique said that Iran did not grant requests by the IAEA mission to visit Parchin, a military site thought to be used for explosives testing related to triggering a nuclear weapon. Amano called this decision “disappointing”. No agreement was reached on how to begin “clarification of unresolved issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions”, the statement said.

Apparently it is Iran’s fault for seeing right through the IAEA’s track record of being nothing but the catalyst for all out aggression. Here is a reminder why, courtesy of Hans Blix. And with that out of the way, we continue:

The fact that the statement was issued early Wednesday, shortly after midnight and just after the IAEA experts left Tehran, reflected the urgency the agency attached to announcing the failed outcome. The language of the statement clearly if indirectly blamed Tehran for the lack of progress.

We can already see the statements from Clinton, who will do anything to make her transition to head of the World Bank as seamless and as “deserved” as pobssible.

In the meantime, Iran is not playing possum:

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Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base started the four-day exercises codenamed Tharallah on Monday within an area of 190,000 square kilometers in southern Iran, with the key objective of boosting the country’s air defense near the Persian Gulf and the nation’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

During the military drills slated in four tactical phases, the Iranian army will test and assess the operation of its surface-to-air and radar equipment, and will collect new data on the procedures.

State-of -the-art radar, artillery and missile systems as well as interceptor fighter aircraft of the Air Force will be used in the military drills.

In the first phase of the drills, the fighter aircraft of the hypothetical enemy launched attacks against local air defense forces as part of an electronic warfare exercise.

Using passive and active sensors and multilevel data collection and communications systems, the air defense forces managed to thwart the mock enemy’s measures promptly and effectively, and safeguard the country’s radar network.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces wrapped up another drill codenamed Val Fajr in the central province of Yazd on Monday, to further enhance the combat preparedness of Iranian armed forces.

Why is Iran doing this now?

Iran maintains that the military drills are defensive in nature and meant to convey a message of peace and friendship to regional countries.

Tehran has also sent a public invitation to regional states to conduct joint naval drills with Iranian forces.

Like Israel?

Rhetorical questions aside, we hope our readers stocked up on gasoline. Because things are about to get uglier. And by that we mean more expensive. But courtesy of hedonic adjustments, more expensive means cheaper, at least to the US government.

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