Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, satellite images released yesterday showed, just as the UN’s nuclear agency said that Tehran is building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last year.
Since August, Iran has built a new or regraded road to the south of Natanz toward what analysts believe is a former firing range for security forces at the enrichment facility, images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs showed.
A satellite image on Monday showed the site cleared away with what appeared to be construction equipment there.
Analysts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said that they believe site is undergoing excavation.
“That road also goes into the mountains, so it may be the fact that they’re digging some kind of structure that’s going to be out in front and that there’s going to be a tunnel in the mountains,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the institute who studies Iran’s nuclear program.
“Or maybe that they’re just going to bury it there,” Lewis said.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, last month told state television that the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz.”
International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Grossi on Tuesday told reporters that his inspectors were aware of the construction.
Grossi said that Iran had previously informed his agency’s inspectors, who continue to have access to Iran’s sites, despite the collapse of the nuclear deal.
“It means that they have started, but it’s not completed. It’s a long process,” Grossi said.
The construction comes as the US prepares for its presidential election on Tuesday next week, with former US vice president Joe Biden, who has expressed a willingness to return to the accord, challenging US President Donald Trump, whose maximum-pressure campaign against Iran has led Tehran to abandon all limits on its atomic program.
The outcome of the vote likely will decide which approach the US takes.
Heightened tensions between Iran and the US nearly ignited a war at the start of this year.
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