The UN atomic agency said on Thursday that Iran has doubled its production capacity at a tough-to-bomb nuclear facility and has “significantly hampered” its ability to inspect a suspect military site.
According to a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, as of Aug. 18 the Fordo facility had around 2,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges installed, compared with around 1,000 in May. However, only around 700 are operating.
Enriched uranium can be used for peaceful purposes, but also for nuclear weapons. Fordo is dug into a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
Iran says its nuclear program is for power generation and producing medical isotopes, but Western nations, Israel and many others suspect its real aim is to develop an atomic bomb.
Because the IAEA has repeatedly said that it is “unable” to conclude that Iran’s activities are peaceful, the UN Security Council has called on Iran to cease all uranium enrichment, imposing four rounds of sanctions.
The IAEA wants Iran to address what it believes is evidence that until 2003, and possibly since, Tehran had a structured program of research into nuclear weapons.
Iran has rejected these claims and says it will only give the agency access as part of a broader agreement governing its future relations with the watchdog.
In particular the IAEA wants to be able to visit the Parchin military base near Tehran where it believes Iran conducted explosives tests for nuclear warhead designs. Western nations accuse Tehran of “sanitizing” the site to remove evidence and in the new report the IAEA says that Iran “has been conducting activities at that location that will significantly hamper the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier on Thursday that the country “is never seeking nuclear weapons.” Addressing the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, he called the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction “a major and unforgiveable sin.”
However, he added: “We will never give up the right to peaceful nuclear energy.”
After the report was issued, the US warned Iran that its window for opening serious talks is limited.