IRAN expands uranium enrichment to new site

According to Valerie Lincy who is the Project's Deputy Director and The editor and principal researcher for IranWatch.org which is published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, (Wisconsin Project is a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization in Washington, D.C which carries out research and public education designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, chemical/biological weapons and long-range missiles) , IRAN expands uranium enrichment to new site.

Below is a full article published By Valerie Lincy, Updated September 20, 2011 on the lastest news on Islamic republic of IRAN nuclear program.

IRAN expands uranium enrichment to new site:

True to its word, Iran has begun moving centrifuges to its new uranium enrichment plant at Fordow, which is intended to produce uranium much closer to the level needed for nuclear weapons. Fordow is also shielded heavily against air attack, and will help triple Iran’s production of this dangerous material. Once Fordow begins to operate, Iran will move more quickly toward the status of a “virtual” nuclear weapon state.

Enriching uranium to this higher level accomplishes 90 percent of the work needed to process natural uranium to weapon-grade. Initial production of this enriched uranium will take place in some 350 centrifuges at the plant, according to Iran. Iran is already making an estimated 4.7 kg of this material each month at the pilot-scale enrichment plant at Natanz, and had amassed a stockpile of some 70 kg by late August.

Such progress has to be seen as alarming. According to calculations by the Wisconsin Project, Iran would theoretically need only about 120 kg of this material to make a bomb, after further enrichment. If Iran were to triple its monthly production rate from 4.7 kg to over 14 kg, it would have one bomb’s worth of this material by the end of this year. What’s more, the size of Iran’s current stockpile is already more than sufficient to fuel its research reactor in Tehran – the claimed purpose of the work.

Iran has also made good on plans to install larger numbers of more advanced centrifuges. As of late August, about 150 machines (the IR-2m and IR-4) had been installed at the Natanz pilot plant, some of which had been fed with uranium. These machines are more efficient that the thousands of IR-1 centrifuges Iran has installed at the commercial-scale plant at Natanz, and at the Fordow plant. Operating these advanced machines in cascades, as Iran is now doing, is a key step in deploying them on a larger scale.

Iran is also producing more low-enriched uranium. As of September, this stockpile contained about 4,600 kg of 3.5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride, a quantity which, if further enriched, is estimated by the Wisconsin Project to be sufficient to fuel as many as four first generation implosion bombs. (See Iran’s Nuclear Timetable.)

Iran’s efforts to improve its centrifuges, to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium, and to raise the enrichment level of its stockpile is considerable proof, if any is needed, that Iran has no intention of complying with U.N. demands that it halt uranium enrichment.

Iran is also flouting U.N. demands that it suspend all work, including tests, on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. In June, Iran tested an upgraded version of its Shahab-3 missile, which Iran claims can travel some 2,000 km armed with a 750-1,000 kg warhead (sufficient for a nuclear payload). At the same time, Iran unveiled underground missile silos for the first time, which it claims would be used to launch even longer range missiles. British Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Iran of carrying out “covert ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload [...]”

The missile test follows Iran’s successful launch of its Rasad satellite, which was lofted into orbit by the multi-stage Safir rocket on June 15. This marks the second successful satellite launch by the Safir and confirms Iran’s mastery of rocket staging, which will allow Iran to build even longer range missiles in the future.

All this progress is ominous in light of Iran’s diminishing cooperation with IAEA inspectors. The inspectors have accumulated a dossier of evidence showing that Iran has worked on technologies that have little or no use in a peaceful nuclear energy program, but which would be essential for developing a nuclear weapon. In fact, the suspicious work looks very much like a bomb maker’s checklist. It includes compressing the chemical compound uranium deuteride with an explosion to produce a short burst of neutrons (the only use for which is to initiate the chain reaction in a fission bomb), producing uranium metal and shaping it into components “relevant to a nuclear device” (needed to make the explosive metal core of a bomb), developing high explosive components suitable for producing an implosive spherical shock wave (needed to compress the core before setting off the chain reaction in a fission bomb), research on exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators in simultaneous detonation (needed to initiate the implosive shock wave in fission bombs), experiments using these detonators to produce the shock wave, and testing high voltage firing equipment to insure that it could fire EBW detonators over long distances (needed for nuclear weapon testing). There have also been reports in the German media that Iran received a specialized computer program from North Korea that can be used to in simulations to determine whether a nuclear device would sustain a chain reaction. North Korean officials reportedly also traveled to Iran to train defense ministry officials in how to use the program, called MCNPX 2.6.0, or Monte Carlo N-Particle Extended.

In addition to all this evidence, the Agency has expressed "serious concern" that Iran acquired designs for a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop Iran’s medium-range Shahab-3 missile. In its September report, the Agency said it was “increasingly concerned” about this evidence, and it repeated its earlier statements that its dossier of evidence comes from “consistent and credible” sources. Taken together, the dossier makes a strong case that Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons.

The United States and its partners continues rely primarily on sanctions as a means of slowing Iran’s nuclear and missile progress. The United States has blacklisted a number of major commercial entities in recent months, including Iran Air, Iran’s national air carrier, Tidewater Middle East Company, a major Iranian port operator, and several key financial institutions. The United States has also tightened the noose around the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), by freezing the assets of IRISL affiliates and agents around the world. And on June 20, the New York County District Attorney’s office announced a 317 count indictment of IRISL and fifteen of its agents for their role in conspiring to evade U.S. economic sanctions. The indictment describes how IRISL falsified bank records using aliases or corporate alter egos in order to access illegally the U.S. financial system.

For its part, the European Union hit over 75 additional Iranian entities with sanctions in late May, including the Iranian-owned and German-located European-Iranian Trade Bank (known as EIH Bank). The total number of persons and firms now sanctioned for proliferation by the E.U. has risen to 292, as compared to 206 sanctioned by the United States and 117 by the United Nations. Among those the E.U. named were 34 “front” companies created by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), expressly to protect its ships from being caught in the sanctions net.

After years of delay, the light water power reactor at Bushehr, built by Russia, was connected to Iran's national grid on September 12, 2011. Delivery of the Russian reactor fuel needed for start-up, some 82 tons, was completed in January 2008. The reactor is designed to supply 1,000 megawatts, and is expected to operate at this level by the end of this year. Each year, the reactor will also generate spent fuel containing some 250 kg of plutonium – enough to fuel several dozen nuclear weapons after further processing. The spent fuel is scheduled to go back to Russia under a protocol signed in 2005.

The status of sanctions

To tighten the noose around Iran’s nuclear and missile developers, the United States has largely relied on Executive Order 13382. Of the 117 entities listed in Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929, the United States has frozen the bank accounts and financial assets of about 80, and prohibited U.S. persons from doing business with them. The United States has also blacklisted almost all major Iranian banks, along with their affiliates and subsidiaries, as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

On July 1, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. This law, which President Obama called “the toughest sanctions against Iran ever passed by the United States Congress,” targets the Iranian government’s primary source of income – its energy sector – and seeks to exploit one of Iran’s primary vulnerabilities – its shortage of petroleum refineries.

The new law penalizes firms that help Iran develop petroleum and natural gas, firms that sell Iran gasoline, and firms that help Iran buy gasoline by providing shipping, insurance or financing. Firms found to be engaging in sanctionable activity are barred from U.S. government contracts.

The law also increases the menu of sanctions that the president “shall impose,” adding a prohibition on accessing foreign exchange in the United States, a prohibition on accessing the U.S. banking system, and a prohibition on property transactions in the United States. A least three of the now-nine sanctions must be imposed unless the President chooses to exercise his waiver authority.

The law has already prompted a host of foreign companies to cut ties with Iran. For instance, energy companies Statoil, ENI, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total have promised to end their present investments in Iran and avoid any new activity. Insurance giants Allianz and Lloyds have announced that they will no longer cover Iran bound cargo. Flights by Iran Air are unable to refuel in most of Europe, and more foreign banks are refusing to issue letters of credit for trade with Iran.

In addition to the energy sector, the law targets financial institutions that do business with Iranian entities blacklisted by the United States, as well as firms that provide Iran with “sensitive technology,” including telecommunications and computer equipment. The law also authorizes state and local governments to divest from firms involved in Iran’s energy sector, and it seeks to disrupt Iran’s weapon-related procurement by allowing the President to designate a country as a destination of “diversion concern.” This designation would restrict U.S. exports to uncooperative countries.

In tandem with the United States, the European Union adopted its broadest sanction policy ever in July 2010. All 27 countries of the European Union are now barred from financing new projects in Iran’s oil and gas sector. Nor may they expand existing projects or supply “key equipment and technology.” Financial dealings are restricted as well. Transactions over €40 million with banks domiciled in Iran, or Iranian banks overseas, must be individually authorized. Iranian banks are also barred from opening new branches in Europe or establishing new joint ventures. And all E.U. member states are prohibited (with some exceptions) from providing new loans, grants or other financial assistance to the Iranian government and from insuring Iranian entities. The Europeans also imposed an asset freeze on Iran’s national maritime carrier – the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), together with a ban on cargo flights operated by Iranian carriers or originating in Iran.

Non-E.U. member states in Europe have adopted sanctions that mirror those of the European Union, in order to prevent Iran from evading sanctions. And Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, and Switzerland have also joined the U.S. and the E.U. in adopting broad economic sanctions that target Iran’s energy, banking and transportation sectors, in addition to blacklisting a number of Iranian entities linked to proliferation.

Iran’s refusal to suspend enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water work has led the U.N. Security Council to vote four rounds of sanctions: Resolution 1929 of June 9, 2010, resolution 1803 of March 3, 2008, resolution 1747 of March 24, 2007, and resolution 1737 of December 23, 2006. These resolutions bar Iran from importing or exporting most conventional weapon systems, as well as items related to uranium enrichment, reprocessing, heavy water and nuclear weapon delivery systems, including dual-use nuclear and missile items; they also bar states from providing Iran with financial or technical assistance aimed at acquiring these items. Resolution 1929 bars Iranian nationals and entities incorporated in Iran from investing in nuclear and missile projects abroad, applies a travel ban on all 41 individuals designated by the Security Council so far, and calls upon countries to “exercise vigilance” in doing business with, and in providing financial services to Iranian entities, and in dealing with Iranian banks. Other elective penalties endorsed by the United Nations include a call for countries to inspect suspicious shipments into and out of Iran, including on the high seas, and to refuse services to Iranian ships suspected of carrying illicit cargo. Countries must also “exercise vigilance” in providing Iranian nationals with specialized nuclear and missile-related training and are called upon, but not required, to cut off “grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans” to the Iranian government. These conditions make it easy for countries to avoid taking action. Combined, the resolutions call for a freeze on the assets of some 117 Iranian entities linked to missile and nuclear work.

In order to oversee implementation, the Security Council has created a Committee responsible for investigating alleged violations. The Committee, which is now aided by a panel of experts named last November, also has the power to expand the asset freeze and travel surveillance to additional persons or companies.

Nuclear progress

After an intermittent freeze on uranium enrichment that lasted several years, Iran resumed enrichment work in January 2006. Since early 2007, Iran has stepped up efforts at its underground commercial-scale enrichment plant at Natanz, with the installation of piping, wiring and control panels, and the installation and linkage of IR-1 (P-1) centrifuges in cascades. Iran has nearly completed the installation of three “units” at Natanz, with roughly 3,000 centrifuges each. As of the IAEA’s September 2011 report, 35 cascades of 164 machines (and in some cases 174 machines) were operating there on August 28. All of these centrifuges had been fed with UF6; a further 18 cascades were installed at the time. According to an IAEA inventory, and further estimates by the Wisconsin Project, Iran has produced about 4,600 kg of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride at the plant from the beginning of operations in February 2007, through September 1, 2011.

Work at the Natanz pilot plant has shifted away from the first-generation IR-1 centrifuges towards the development of more advanced machines, including the IR-2, IR-3 and IR-4. All of these machines have been tested with UF6. The IR-2 is a sub-critical machine with a single carbon fiber rotor and no bellows, according to a report by the Institute for Science and International Security. According to the IAEA, Iran is also testing a modified version of the IR-2. This modified IR-2, or one of the other, more advanced centrifuge models, is likely made with higher strength metals, like maraging steel. Iran may rely on foreign suppliers for some of the machine’s key materials and parts. However, Iran is working to make centrifuge operations entirely indigenous; at its Kalaye Electric research and development laboratory, Iran is developing not only centrifuge components, but also measuring equipment and vacuum pumps. As of late August 2011, Iran had installed 136 IR-2m centrifuges (54 of which had been fed with UF6), and 27 IR-4 centrifuges, none of which had been fed with UF6 by that date.

Iran has also continued to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) – a gas that can be enriched to make fuel for reactors or bombs – at its Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in Isfahan. From March 2004 through May 2011, Iran produced a total of 371 tons of this material.

At the same time, other parts of Iran’s nuclear program have progressed. Despite calls by the U.N. Security Council, the IAEA and Europe to abandon the project, Iran has pushed forward with its heavy water production plant at Arak, and with its 40-megawatt heavy water reactor nearby. The heavy water plant was inaugurated in August 2006, and had produced 60 tons of heavy water by August 2011, according to Iran. Agency inspectors were able to visit the plant in August 2011 -- their first visit since 2005. The IAEA board indefinitely blocked Iran’s request for technical assistance for this project at a meeting in November 2007, over concerns that the reactor could be used to produce plutonium for weapons. During a visit by to the reactor in November 2010, IAEA inspectors confirmed that civil construction at the site was “almost complete” and that some major equipment, including the pressurizer for the reactor cooling system and the main crane in the reactor building, had been installed. In August 2011, inspectors confirmed that the moderator heat exchangers had been installed and that the coolant heat exchangers had been delivered to the site. Iran estimates that the reactor will begin operation by the end of 2013.

On May 23, 2009, Agency inspectors were able to visit the Fuel Manufacturing Plant; it was then operational and had produced natural uranium pellets to fuel the heavy water reactor. However, inspectors confirmed in August 2011 that Iran had not yet installed equipment to manufacture fuel for the Tehran research reactor.

Grounds for suspicion

Doubts about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear work have grown in response to Iran’s decision to limit its cooperation with the IAEA. In early February 2008, the IAEA presented member states, including Iran, with specific evidence that Iran had pursued work related to nuclear weapons. In its May 2008 report, the Agency listed eighteen documents supporting these allegations. Iran has called the documents “forged” or “fabricated,” and still refuses to help the Agency investigate their validity by providing access to individuals, records and sites. For instance, it has barred IAEA inspectors from interviewing Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, former head of the Physics Research Center who was reportedly described by the IAEA as the Iranian military official in charge of Iran's nuclear effort.

The IAEA has also presented specific information showing that a company in Iran involved in uranium conversion was in touch with a team designing the inner cone of a missile re-entry vehicle that could, according to the Agency, “quite likely accommodate” a nuclear warhead. The IAEA wants Iran to explain documents and technical information that link Iran to the testing of high voltage detonator firing equipment, the development of exploding bridge wire detonators and an arrangement for underground, remote explosive testing. The Agency considers these activities to be “relevant to nuclear weapon R&D.”

The IAEA also wants clarification on Iran’s efforts to procure such potentially nuclear weapon-related items as spark gaps, shock wave software, neutron sources, corrosion resistant steel parts and radiation measurement equipment. These items might have been intended for use in interrelated studies on uranium conversion, high explosives testing and the design of a nuclear-capable missile re-entry vehicle.

The IAEA is still reviewing elements of Iran’s undeclared nuclear program, including the illicit import of centrifuge equipment in the late 1980s and 1990s. In November 2007, Iran finally turned over a one-page document containing a 1987 offer from the network run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. According to Iran, this is the only remaining evidence of the offer, which included supplying a disassembled P-1 centrifuge, centrifuge manufacturing specifications, blueprints for a “complete plant,” and materials to make 2,000 centrifuges. The offer also included auxiliary vacuum and electrical drive equipment, mechanical, electrical and electronic support equipment for the centrifuge plant, and a document on how to reduce UF6 to metal, and how to cast and machine enriched, natural and depleted uranium into “hemispherical forms.” Iran insists that it only received some components for two disassembled centrifuges along with supporting drawings and specifications.

After reviewing what the Agency described as “the limited documentation provided by Iran,” the IAEA concluded that its findings matched Iran’s statements about the 1987 acquisition of P-1 centrifuge technology. However, several questions about Iran’s early research and development work following this offer remain open, including the genesis of a 1993 offer of P-1 enrichment technology from the Khan network and the conditions under which Iran received a document on how to make hemispheres of uranium metal—an activity uniquely useful for bomb making.

As for the development of its more advanced centrifuge program, Iran is sticking to its unlikely story that after receiving a full set of drawings for Pakistan’s P-2 from the Khan network in 1996, during a meeting in Dubai, it conducted no work at all on the P-2 until 2002, and that it never received P-2 components. Iran has also insisted that it procured only a small number of magnets for the P-2. The IAEA was unable to substantiate evidence that Iran received 900 magnets from a foreign supplier during the period between 1996 and 2002 when Iran says it undertook no work on the P-2. As a result, the Agency has concluded its findings about Iran’s P-2 activities match Iran’s statements. Yet, Iran’s current pursuit of the IR-2 makes uncertainties about the program’s early development troubling.

Foreign assistance

Imports of nuclear-, chemical- and missile-related equipment have been indispensable to Iran’s weapon efforts. According to annual reports by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Iran has continued to seek foreign assistance from entities in Russia, China, and North Korea.

China has provided key assistance to Iran’s nuclear effort. Chinese entities have helped Iran prospect for uranium, have sold UF6 ready for enrichment and have provided Iran with blueprints, equipment test reports, and equipment design information for its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan.

Russia’s main contribution is the 1,000 MW light-water power reactor it has been building at Bushehr. As of December 2005, 700 Iranian experts had completed training at Russia's Novovoronezh training center, which is run by the Russian nuclear power agency Rosenergoatom. The training included a theory course, work on a nuclear power unit simulator, and work at Russian nuclear power plants similar to the Bushehr reactor. The Iranian experts will continue their training at the Bushehr reactor itself. In addition to the reactor, Russian entities are alleged to have supplied laser equipment for uranium enrichment, know-how for heavy water reactors, and help with heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite production.

The nuclear smuggling network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is believed to have been the main supplier to Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program. Speculation as to exactly what equipment and material Iran received has been the subject of numerous media reports since Libya renounced its mass destruction weapons and the Khan network was revealed as Libya’s primary supplier. The IAEA has already confirmed that the enrichment programs in Iran and Libya relied on the same technology obtained from the same foreign sources. And Iran’s P-2 centrifuge design is the same as the one found by the Agency in Libya. The P-1 centrifuges Iran has installed at Natanz are of an early European design, similar to the machines that have been under the control of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in Pakistan. If Iran indeed received the same package of nuclear goods as did Libya, then it is possible that Iran received the same Chinese-origin bomb design. Iran may also have received more sophisticated nuclear weapon designs from the Khan network. Such designs were found on computers seized from Swiss nationals Friedrich, Marco and Urs Tinner. The Tinners were a known part of the Khan smuggling network and the designs found on their computers would reportedly require only 15 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and would be small enough to fit atop Iran’s medium-range Shahab-3 missile.

China, Russia and North Korea have combined to supply Iran’s missiles. Iran’s 1,300 kilometer Shahab-3 missile is essentially an imported North Korean Nodong missile enhanced by Russian technology. It was distributed to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in June 2003 and has since been tested several times. Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed that Russia had delivered Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran. Iran has already tested the missiles and will use them to defend key nuclear sites. North Korea, in addition to selling the Nodong missile, has furnished Iran a fleet of SCUD-B and SCUD-C short-range missiles, plus the factories to make them. Both the SCUD-B and SCUD-C have a diameter sufficient to accommodate a compact nuclear warhead.

According to classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by the non-profit organization WikiLeaks beginning on November 28, 2010, Iran has sought to procure missile-useable technology such as gyroscopes and carbon fiber from Chinese firms. These cables also confirm an allegation first published several years ago that Iran imported Russian-origin, nuclear-capable missiles from North Korea. According to a February 24, 2010 cable, which describes a bilateral meeting between Russian and U.S. officials, North Korea transferred nineteen BM-25 missiles to Iran. Though neither Iran nor North Korea have tested this missile, the United States believes that BM-25 technology has been used by Iran to improve its Safir space launch vehicle, and that it will allow Iran to improve its missile engines through the use of more “energetic fuels.” The BM-25 is based on the SS-N-6, a submarine-launched ballistic missile developed by the Soviet Union that became operational in the late 1960s. The SS-N-6 is a single-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of up to 3,000 km.