Last updated: September 6, 2010 9:40 pm

Iran increases nuclear stockpile

Iran has increased its total stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 15 per cent, in spite of the pressure on the country exerted by economic sanctions, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In its latest report on the state of Iran’s nuclear programme, the IAEA said the country had produced 2,803kg of uranium enriched to the purity needed to run a nuclear power station.

But experts said a stockpile of this size meant that if Iran chose further to enrich this material to the level needed for nuclear weapons, it would be able to build nearly three bombs. However, Iran’s ability to manufacture a nuclear warhead is still unclear and Tehran says that its nuclear programme has only peaceful purposes.

But Iran also appears to be having some technical difficulties with its enrichment programme. The IAEA report showed that the number of operational centrifuges at the plant at Natanz had again declined from 3,936 in May this year to 3,772 last month. The decline of 164 machines in the space of three months is equivalent to a full “cascade” of centrifuges.

Of the 8,856 centrifuges installed at Natanz, only 43 per cent are operational.

In its report, the IAEA said Iran was hampering surveillance of its nuclear programme by vetoing the nomination of certain inspectors. “[This] hampers the inspection process and thereby detracts from the agency’s capability to implement effective and efficient safeguards in Iran,” the report said.

A senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA’s work said the veto of inspectors made the task “more difficult because new inspectors need time to familiarise themselves with aspects of the Iranian programme”.

Tehran barred two inspectors in June after claiming they had leaked and fabricated information about the nuclear programme.

The report also found that Iran had continued constructing a heavy water reactor at Arak, but without allowing inspectors full access to the site.

The IAEA said Iran’s failure to comply fully with the agency’s requests for information was increasingly troubling.

“The passage of time and the possible deterioration in the availability of some relevant information increases the urgency of this matter,” according to the report. “Iran has not provided the necessary co-operation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: “The IAEA’s latest report on Iran again demonstrates that Iran is refusing to comply with its international nuclear obligations, and continues its effort to expand its nuclear program and move closer to a nuclear weapons capability.”

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