Not a ‘Hole in the Mountain’

Outgoing Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei had given New York Times an interview earlier this month where he had talked about the new uranium enrichment site at Fordow near Qom, which has been revealed to the public in September, as just a “hole in the mountain”. When U.N. inspectors visited the site on October 26 and 27, they had allegedly found “nothing to be worried about”. “The idea was to use it as a bunker under the mountain to protect things.”

The main question remains, however, why and when Iran had started construction work at Fordow. The latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities is more explicit:

“12. Iran explained that the Fordow site had been allocated to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in the second half of 2007, and that that was when the construction of the FFEP (Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant) had started. Iran subsequently confirmed that explanation in a letter dated 28 October 2009. In that letter, Iran stated that:

“As a result of the augmentation of the threats of military attacks against Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to establish contingency centers(!) for various organizations and activities …

“The Natanz Enrichment Plant was among the targets threatened with military attacks. Therefore, the Atomic Energy Organization requested the Passive Defence Organization to allocate one of those aforementioned centers for the purpose of [a] contingency enrichment plant, so that enrichment activities shall not be suspended in the case of any military attack. In this respect, the Fordow site, being one of those constructed and prepared centers, [was] allocated to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in the second half of 2007. The construction of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant then started. The construction is still ongoing. Thus the plant is not yet ready for operation and it is planned to be operational in 2011.”

13. During the meetings, the Agency informed Iran that it had acquired commercially available satellite imagery of the site indicating that there had been construction at the site between 2002 and 2004, and that construction activities were resumed in 2006 and had continued to date. The Agency also referred to the extensive information given to the Agency by a number of Member States detailing the design of the facility, which was consistent with the design as verified by the Agency during the DIV (Design Information Verification). The Agency also informed Iran that these Member States alleged that design work on the facility had started in 2006.”

Thus, Iran admits that it has considered a number of possible contingency centers in case the Natanz facility is being attacked. How many of them have not been declared yet? Iran’s notification of the Fordow sites came only after it had become clear for Tehran that intelligence agencies had come to know of the site for some time.

Satellite imagery published earlier this month by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has narrowed the time frame during which Iran would have begun construction work at the site to after January 2006 but before June 2007. Iran is clearly contradicting this evidence here. The question might be of importance when considering the modified Code 3.1 of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) under which Iran is obliged to immediately inform the IAEA about a possible nuclear facility at the time of planning. Iran has suspended its compliance with early notification rules in March 2007. Its majlis, or parliament, has never ratified Code 3.1. Nevertheless, the IAEA stresses (under 17.) that “Iran remains bound by the revised Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part to which it had agreed in 2003, which requires that the Agency be provided with preliminary design information about a new nuclear facility as soon as the decision to construct or to authorize constructiob of the facility is taken.”

The IAEA report further states:

“16. Iran stated that it did not have any other nuclear facilities that were currently under construction or in operation that had not yet been declared to the Agency. Iran also stated that any such future facilities would “be reported to the Agency according to Iran’s obligations to the Agency”. In a letter dated 6 November 2009, the Agency asked Iran to confirm that it had not taken a decision to construct, or to authorize construction of, any other nuclear facility which had not been declared to the Agency.”

Thus, the report clearly underlines Iran’s violation of its obligations under the NPT as regards the new enrichment facility near Qom. And it is not a ‘hole in the mountain’. The report’s detailed description gives a completely different picture:

“10. The DIV included a detailed visual examination of all areas of the plant, the taking of photographs of cascade piping and other process equipment, the taking of environmental samples and a detailed assessment of the design, configuration and capacity of the various plant components and systems. Iran provided access to all areas of the facility. The Agency confirmed that the plant corresponded with the design information provided by Iran and that the facility was at an advanced(!) stage of construction, although no centrifuges had been introduced into the facility. Centrifuge mounting pads, header and sub-header pipes, water piping, electrical cables and cabinets had been put in place but were not yet connected; the passivation tanks, chemical traps, cold traps and cool boxes were also in place but had not been connected. In addition, a utilities building containing electricity transformers and water chillers had also been erected.”

The report concludes that “Iran’s failure to inform the Agency, in accordance with the provisions of the revised Code 3.1, of the decision to construct, or to authorize construction of, a new facility as soon as such a decision is taken, and to submit information as the design is developed, is inconsistent with its obligations under the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguard Agreement. Moreover, Iran’s delay in submitting such information to the Agency does not contribute to the building of confidence.”

This entry was posted in IAEA, Iran, NPT and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Not a ‘Hole in the Mountain’

  1. Pingback: ElBaradei’s Legacy « Freelance

  2. Pingback: Red Herring? « Freelance

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