Iran’s controversial Natanz uranium processing plant has successfully restarted the sophisticated equipment that could enable it to produce material for nuclear warheads, according to reports received by Western intelligence.
In the past few days Iranian nuclear scientists have reportedly restarted four of the centrifuges required to produce weapons-grade uranium, and have begun feeding them with uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, a key component in the production of nuclear bombs.
This crucial development follows Iran’s decision to withdraw its co-operation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna after the body decided last week to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council.
Iranian officials have moved quickly to obstruct the work of the UN nuclear inspectors still working in the country’s nuclear facilities.
Intelligence officials say restrictions have been imposed on the inspectors’ movements between the various facilities at Natanz.
They have been specifically excluded from those areas where the Iranians have announced they would resume uranium enrichment, and have ordered the UN inspectors to report to officials running the plant on a daily basis. Security cameras installed by IAEA officials to monitor key facilities have been disabled.
Having effectively excluded the UN inspection teams from the most sensitive sites, Iranian nuclear scientists have removed the seals from the P-2 centrifuges that Iran acquired from Pakistan through the secret nuclear network operated by Dr A Q Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb.
They have also begun installing tanks in underground bunkers that are designed for industrial enrichment.
In previous submissions to the UN inspectors, the Iranians insisted they had acquired the P-2 centrifuges merely for research purposes, They have continued to insist that their nuclear programme is solely aimed at developing alternative energy sources.
However, a senior Western intelligence official said: “Iran’s recent activity is a clear escalation of its attempts to enrich uranium to weapons grade. With the UN inspectors out of the way they are basically free to do as they please.”