Reuters: The U.N. nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to allow extra surveillance cameras to avoid losing track of Tehran's burgeoning uranium enrichment operation, senior diplomats familiar with the issue said on Friday.
By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to allow extra surveillance cameras to avoid losing track of Tehran's burgeoning uranium enrichment operation, senior diplomats familiar with the issue said on Friday.
Unsettling Western officials who fear Iran is on a path to nuclear weapons, something it denies, an International Atomic Energy Agency report last week said Iran had more than 7,000 centrifuges enriching uranium or undergoing run-in tests.
It made clear that with the increasing production rate, the Natanz enrichment plant was outgrowing the ability of a limited number of U.N. inspections and cameras to ensure no diversions of nuclear materials for military, bomb-making purposes.
Iran says it wants an enrichment industry for electricity so it can export more of its bountiful oil. But its past failure to report proliferation-sensitive nuclear work to the IAEA and continued curbs on inspections stirred suspicion abroad.
"The IAEA is discussing with Iran (further) containment and surveillance measures, including additional cameras, and other verification procedures so the agency can continue to meet safeguards objectives," a senior diplomat told Reuters, asking for anonymity to discuss confidential information.
Another senior Vienna diplomat said Iran had taken issue with one request for changing "overall arrangements" for surveillance. But the delicate discussions about a solution were continuing without a result yet, various diplomats said.
Measures could include adding cameras or changing angles of existing ones to cover expanding ranks of centrifuges, allowing direct transmission of images to IAEA headquarters — remote monitoring long opposed by Iran — or increasing the frequency and intrusiveness of inspection visits.
IAEA-accredited diplomats regard the matter as a test case for Iranian cooperation with inspectors, which Tehran curbed after being hit with U.N. sanctions over a refusal to suspend enrichment and failure to open up to agency investigations.
A senior U.N. official said last week there was now "a forest of 7,000 machines" in Natanz with installations continuing at a pace that could raise the total to 9,000 soon.
Last week's report said the IAEA had carried out 25 unannounced inspections at Natanz since March 2007 but the latest, planned three weeks ago, was barred by Iran due to what it said was a continuing security drill in the complex.
U.S. nuclear analysts said Iran now had accumulated enough low-enriched uranium to convert into high-enriched uranium (HEU) sufficient for one atom bomb, and would amass enough for two warheads by early next year based on the current pace of output.
However, "weaponising" enrichment would not escape IAEA notice unless done at a secret location. There are no indications of any such covert diversion and Iran has repeatedly vowed to pursue enrichment under regular IAEA monitoring.