Saturday, February 18, 2012

Iran poised for big nuke jump

From the AP:
Iran is poised to greatly expand uranium enrichment at a fortified underground bunker to a point that would boost how quickly it could make nuclear warheads, diplomats tell The Associated Press.

They said Tehran has put finishing touches for the installation of thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility - machines that can produce enriched uranium much more quickly and efficiently than its present machines...

The senior diplomats... suggested that Tehran would have little reason to prepare the ground for the better centrifuges unless it planned to operate them. They spoke in recent interviews - the last one Saturday.

The reported work at Fordo appeared to reflect Iran's determination to forge ahead with nuclear activity that could be used to make atomic arms despite rapidly escalating international sanctions...

Fordo could be used to make fissile warhead material even without such an upgrade, the diplomats said.

They said that although older than Iran's new generation machines, the centrifuges now operating there can be reconfigured within days to make such material because they already are enriching to 20 percent - a level that can be boosted quickly to weapons-grade quality.

Their comments appeared to represent the first time anyone had quantified the time it would take to reconfigure the Fordo centrifuges into machines making weapons-grade material.

Iranian officials deny nuclear weapons aspirations... But IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has said there are increasing indications of such activity...

Among these were indications that Iran has conducted high explosives testing and detonator development to set off a nuclear charge, as well as computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead. The report also cited preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test and development of a nuclear payload for Iran's Shahab 3 intermediate range missile - a weapon that could reach Israel...

[Iranian news media reported several days ago] that a "new generation" of Iranian centrifuges had gone into operation at Natanz, in central Iran.

A diplomat accredited to the IAEA, which monitors Iran's known nuclear programs, said the "new generation" of centrifuges appeared to be referring to about 65 IR-4 machines that were recently set up at an experimental site at Natanz.
The Guardian-UK reported in 2009 that the IAEA had obtained documentation that suggests Iranian scientists have experimented with an extremely sophisticated and highly advanced nuclear warhead design.

"It is breathtaking that Iran could be working on this sort of material," said one nuclear expert.