Friday, February 20, 2009

Iran has more enriched uranium than thought

February 20, 2009


In their first appraisal of Iran's nuclear program since President Barack Obama took office, atomic inspectors have found that Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it has enriched, United Nations officials said Thursday.

The officials also declared for the first time that the amount of uranium that Tehran had now amassed — more than a ton — was sufficient, with added purification, to make an atom bomb.

In a report issued in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had discovered an additional 460 pounds of low-enriched uranium, a third more than Iran had previously disclosed. The agency made the find during its annual physical inventory of nuclear materials at Iran's sprawling desert enrichment plant at Natanz.

Independent nuclear weapons experts expressed surprise at the disclosure and criticized the atomic inspectors for making independent checks on Iran's progress only once a year.

"It's worse than we thought," Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said in an interview. "It's alarming that the actual production was underreported by a third."

The political impact of the report, while hard to measure, could be significant for the Obama administration. Obama has said that he wants to open direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program. But starting that process could take months, and the report suggests that Iran is moving ahead briskly with its uranium enrichment.

"You have enough atoms" to make a nuclear bomb, a senior United Nations official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the topic's diplomatic sensitivity, told reporters on Thursday. His remarks confirmed estimates that private nuclear analysts made late last year. But the official noted that the material would have to undergo further enrichment if it was to be used as fuel for a bomb and that atomic inspectors had found no signs that Iran was making such preparations.

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