AFP – VIENNA — The UN nuclear watchdog said Friday it has received new information regarding allegations of possible military dimensions to Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been investigating the Islamic republic’s disputed atomic drive for a number of years, with a range of issues still unresolved, among them allegations that Iran had undertaken studies to build a nuclear payload for a missile.
In a restricted new report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the IAEA said Iran was still refusing “to discuss a number of outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to its nuclear work.”
Tehran insists its atomic programme is entirely peaceful.
But Western countries believe it is a guise to a covert nuclear weapons programme and have compiled evidence that it was involved in weaponisation studies — work which included uranium conversion, high explosives testing and the adaptation of a ballistic missile cone to carry a nuclear warhead — at least until 2003.
Iran has dismissed the evidence as “fabricated” and refused to discuss the so-called “alleged studies” any further.
Nevertheless, “additional information … has come to the (agency’s) attention since August 2008, including new information recently received” that prompted “further concerns,” the IAEA report said.
“Iran is not engaging with the agency in substance on issues concerning the allegation that Iran is developing a nuclear payload for its missile programme,” the report said.
A senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA’s investigation said the most recent information appeared to back up the allegations of weaponisation studies, which may have continued beyond 2004.
It provided “a better picture of what happened before 2003. And it provides additional information on what happened after 2003, and this is of course of concern to us. And we need to engage with Iran on that,” the official said.
In the 12-page report, the IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium in the main branch of its Natanz uranium enrichment plant had now reached 3,606 kilogrammes (7,933 pounds).
Uranium enrichment is the most controversial part of Iran’s nuclear activities because it can be used not only to generate nuclear fuel, but also to produce the fissile material for a nuclear bomb.
Tehran is under four sets of UN sanctions for refusing to halt such sensitive work.
But the Islamic republic remains defiant and has even started work on a second uranium enrichment facility at Qom.
That work was “ongoing,” the IAEA said.
And while no uranium-enriching centrifuges had been placed at the site as of February 19, Tehran said earlier this week it plans to “begin feeding nuclear material into cascades ‘by this summer.'”
Last year, Iran also started enriching uranium to a higher level of purification, ostensibly for a research reactor that makes medical isotopes for cancer treatment.
The stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium now amounts to 43.6 kilogrammes, the IAEA said.
The report was circulated to IAEA member states on Friday and will be discussed at the upcoming spring meeting of the watchdog’s 35-member board of governors next month.
By Simon Morgan