Iran undertook nuclear-bomb studies before 2009, IAEA finds

Iran undertook nuclear-bomb studies before 2009, IAEA findsIranian scientists experimented with technologies that could be used to make a nuclear bomb without ever taking the final steps needed to turn their work into a weapon, international investigators said in a landmark report aimed at ending a 12-year inquiry.

International Atomic Energy Agency monitors assessed with that Iran ceased experiments that could be used to develop a weapon by 2009, the Vienna-based agency found in a restricted report seen Wednesday by Bloomberg News. Pending its approval by the IAEA’s board of governors at a Dec. 15 special meeting, the document will formally close the weapons inquiry and bring Iran one step closer to relief from international economic sanctions.

“These activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano wrote in the report. “The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.”

IAEA inspectors will continue monitoring Iran’s nuclear work -- especially areas that could have weapons applications -- under special powers obtained through the Islamic Republic’s July accord with world powers, said two diplomats with knowledge of the probe who asked not to be named in return for discussing confidential information. Iran has denied ever seeking a nuclear bomb and pledged to allow wider monitoring under the accord.

The IAEA report will let Iran accelerate implementation of the agreement by giving it a green light to export more than 8,000 kilograms (17,636 pounds) of enriched uranium. Iranian technicians have already begun dismantling thousands of machines and are preparing to disable the core of a nuclear reactor.

According to the diplomats who discussed the investigation’s outcome on condition of anonymity, the IAEA will continue to closely monitor multiple areas of research in Iran. They include:

Detonator and high-explosives development: Iran was suspected of developing high-precision detonators for nuclear weapons. The IAEA assessed that “detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device. The Agency acknowledges that there is a growing use” of such “detonators for civilian and conventional military purposes.”

Hydrodynamic experiments: Iran allegedly built a containment vessel inside its Parchin military complex to study how a nuclear explosion might be set off. The IAEA assessed “that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.”

Modeling and calculations: Iran was suspected of modeling how neutrons would move during a nuclear explosion. The IAEA noted “the incomplete and fragmented nature of those calculations. The Agency also notes the applicability of some hydrodynamic modeling to conventional military explosive devices.”

Though the report could end one of the most contentious standoffs in the IAEA’s 58-year history, it may also rekindle opposition to the Iranian nuclear accord. U.S. Republican Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio wrote in September that he’d seek to cut funding for the agreement “unless Iran has completely come clean about its past.”

IAEA inspectors first reported since November 2011 that they were in possession of “credible” information showing Iran may have experimented with nuclear-weapons technologies. For its part, Iran accused the IAEA of being a dupe of foreign intelligence agencies bent on framing the country for violations it didn’t commit.

Oil and banking sanctions against Iran could be lifted by mid-January based on the pace at which technicians are removing and mothballing nuclear equipment at the country’s uranium-enrichment facilities.
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