Iran enriching uranium to higher levels than reported, says UN
The IAEA has found uranium enriched up to 27 percent in an underground bunker in central Iran, several diplomats told The Associated Press. Until now, Iran had only reported enriched uranium to 20 percent. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.
The U.N. atomic agency has found evidence at an underground bunker in Iran that could mean the country has moved closer to producing the uranium threshold needed to arm nuclear missiles, diplomats said Friday.Skip to next paragraph
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The news comes a day after Iran and six world powers found they were still far apart over how to oversee Tehran's atomic program but wanted talks to continue to avoid possible military action.
Iran is under several rounds of U.N. sanctions for its failure to disclose information on its controversial nuclear program. Tehran says it is enriching uranium to provide more nuclear energy for its growing population, while the U.S. and other nations fear that Iran doing that so it can later make nuclear weapons.
That is still substantially below the 90-percent level needed to make the fissile core of nuclear arms. But it is above Iran's highest-known enrichment grade, which is close to 20 percent and can be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly than the Islamic Republic's main stockpile, which can only be used for fuel at around 3.5 percent enrichment.
Calls to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, were rejected and the switchboard at the Iranian mission said he was not available. IAEA media officials said the agency had no comment on the latest report.
The diplomats — who demanded anonymity because their information is privileged — said the find did not necessarily mean that Iran was covertly raising its enrichment threshold toward weapons-grade level. They said the centrifuges that produce enriched uranium could have over-enriched at the start as technicians adjusted their output — an assessment shared by nonproliferation expert David Albright.
Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security looks for signs of proliferation, said a new configuration at Fordo means its tends to "overshoot 20 percent" at the start.
"Nonetheless, embarrassing for Iran," he wrote in an email to the AP.
The latest attempt to persuade Iran to compromise and let U.N. experts view its nuclear program ended inconclusively Thursday at a meeting in Baghdad. At the talks, six nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — failed to persuade Tehran to freeze its 20 percent enrichment. Envoys said the group will meet again next month in Moscow.