UN inspectors find uranium traces in Iran
Tehran, May 26, 2012
United Nations nuclear inspectors have found uranium particles refined to a higher-than-expected level at an underground site where Iran has installed more than 50 percent more enrichment centrifuges, a UN watchdog report said.
It said Tehran had told the UN agency that the presence of traces of highly refined uranium - still well below potential nuclear weapons-grade material - "may happen for technical reasons beyond the operator's control".
The US - which like its Western allies and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to develop atomic bomb capability - said the Iranian explanation could be correct and a leading U.S. expert said he saw nothing "nefarious" in the discovery.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report came a day after six world powers - the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, China and France - failed to convince Iran to halt its most sensitive nuclear work during May 23-24 talks in Baghdad.
At the heart of the dispute is Iran's insistence on a right to enrich uranium and that economic sanctions should be lifted before it shelves activities that could lead to its achieving the ability to assemble nuclear weapons.
Western powers insist Tehran must first shut down higher-grade enrichment before sanctions could be eased.
Iran started enriching to a fissile concentration of 20 percent in 2010 and has since sharply expanded the activity, saying the material will serve as fuel for a medical reactor.
But a suspicious West is alarmed since such enhanced enrichment accomplishes much of the technical leap towards 90 per cent - or weapons-grade - uranium.
The IAEA report said environmental samples taken in February at Iran's Fordow facility - buried deep beneath rock and soil to protect it from air strikes - showed the presence of particles with enrichment levels of up to 27 per cent.
That is above the 20 per cent enrichment level Iran has declared at the site, and takes it across the line from low-enriched to high-enriched uranium.
"The agency is assessing Iran's explanation and has requested further details," the IAEA report said.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "There are a number of possible explanations for this, including the one that the Iranians have provided. We are going to depend on the IAEA to get to the bottom of it."
A diplomat familiar with the issue said a "number" of such particles had been discovered at Fordow and that further samples were taken this month to see whether the find was confirmed.
US proliferation expert David Albright said it was "embarrassing for Iran" but he saw no reason for concern.
"I think they just did it as they were starting up the cascade (network of centrifuges). It is nothing special. It is not nefarious," he told Reuters.
The IAEA report suggested it is possible that particles of uranium enriched to higher-than-declared levels may be the result of a technical phenomenon associated with the start-up of centrifuge cascades.-Reuters