Iran nuclear program: Can it produce its own fuel?
Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that the Iran nuclear program could produce its own higher enriched nuclear fuel. But some analysts cast doubt on Iran's capacity to do so.
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"They are still significantly dependent on imports for their program," says Mr. Levi, author of "On Nuclear Terrorism." "Iran has been casting its net wide for materials and equipment as its dependable suppliers have become more difficult to deal with…. It's gotten harder for them."Skip to next paragraph
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Restrictions have tightened with three sets of UN Security Council sanctions, one set of US sanctions, and a host of other US-led bilateral, European, and Israeli efforts, which reports suggest include sabotage of some nuclear components coming from abroad.
In recent years, Iran has had to make design decisions "based less on choosing the optimal technical route," such that the "ability to procure certain things overrode everything else," notes Levi. "There is a cat and mouse game … it's a continuing fight."
Monitoring Iran's procurement network
That fight may have helped US and Western intelligence agencies determine that the facility near Qom, called Fordo and situated on a Revolutionary Guard military base, had a nuclear purpose.
Obama administration statements "strongly suggest to me that we have their procurement network, at least a part of it, pretty well penetrated," because the arrival of certain material was the tipoff that it was a centrifuge facility, says a US government nonproliferation expert who asked not to be named. "We know they're out shopping, and we're trying to stop that."
This analyst notes that Iran has slowed installation of new centrifuges in recent months, and stated in late September that it would concentrate on more sophisticated and efficient centrifuges.
Iran has reacted strongly to the IAEA censure. On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said Western countries "once again showed that they are not committed to the law. They make use of international bodies as tools.… the era of such childish games are over."
The Iranian president had earlier singled out Russia, which is building Iran's only nuclear power plant at Bushehr. "Russia made a mistake," Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday. "It does not have an accurate analysis of today's world situation."
Reuters reported on Wednesday from Moscow that Russia would join any "consensus" on more sanctions against Iran, which US officials suggest will be a top priority in the New Year if no compromise deal is reached.
Though all decisions on nuclear and other key state issues in Iran are made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khameini, the comments by Ahmadinejad appeared to make a compromise exchange deal less likely. Given current limitations, it was not clear how Iran would boost its capabilities.
"Based on what the Iranians have demonstrated, it would be surprising if they were able to manufacture anywhere near the number of centrifuges they need" for the declared enrichment expansion, says the US government expert. "Iran also does not have a large supply of indigenous uranium. I don't think they have enough even to fuel a Bushehr-sized reactor, let alone run that many centrifuges. It's ridiculous."