Claims by International Atomic Energy Agency experts could add to international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme
Satellite images of Iran appear to indicate attempts to clean up radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger, diplomats said on Wednesday.
The claims by International Atomic Energy Agency experts could add to international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.
While the US and the EU are backing sanctions, Israel has warned that it may resort to a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons.
Two of the diplomats said the images suggested that crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion.
A third diplomat could not confirm that but said any attempt to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.
The diplomats said they suspect attempts at sanitisation because some of the vehicles at the scene appeared to be haulage trucks and other equipment suited to carting off potentially contaminated soil from the site.
The images, provided by member countries to the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, are recent and constantly updated, one of the diplomats said. The diplomats all requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information on the record.
The IAEA has already identified Parchin as the location of suspected nuclear weapons-related testing. In a November report, it said it appeared to be the site of experiments with conventional high explosives meant to initiate a nuclear chain reaction.
It did not mention a neutron initiator as part of those tests, but in a separate section cited an unnamed member nation as saying Iran may have experimented with a neutron initiator, without going into detail or naming a location for such work.
If Iran did try to trigger a neutron initiator, it would harden international suspicions by adding a nuclear component to a suspected string of experiments linked to weapons development that generally have not included radioactive material.
Iran has previously attempted to clean up sites considered suspicious. It razed the Lavizan Shian complex in the north, before allowing IAEA inspectors to visit the sitethat Tehran said had been demolished to make way for a park. Inspectors who subsequently came to the site five years ago found traces of uranium enriched to or near the level used in making the core of nuclear warheads.
Samples taken from Kalay-e also showed traces of enriched uranium, though at levels substantially below warhead grade.
Iran vehemently denies allegations that it conducted any research and development into atomic weapons and says the totality of its nuclear activities are meant purely to generate power or for research.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, said he would not discuss any nuclear issues until after he delivered his statement to the agency’s 35-nation board meeting on Thursday. IAEA officials also said they could not comment.
Attention most recently focused on Parchin, when senior IAEA officials first spoke of unexplained activities at the site without saying what they could be.
Diplomats who who had seen spy satellite imagery said the trucks and other equipment at the site almost certainly showed attempts to clean it of radioactive contamination.
They said radioactive traces could also be left by material other than a neutron initiator, such as uranium metal which can be used as a substitute for testing purposes.
IAEA teams twice in recent weeks were denied permission to visit Parchin. Tehran said on Monday that such a visit would be granted, but that a comprehensive agreement outlining conditions of such an inspection must first be agreed.
The UN security council wants Iran to end uranium enrichment – which can make both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material..
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