Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP)
Covering 100,000 m2, the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) complex, according to the NCRI, boasted two 25,000-meter halls, built 8 meters-deep into the ground and protected by a concrete wall 2.5 meters thick, itself protected by another concrete wall. Also present at the site are a number of administrative buildings.
Some observers suggested that the Natanz site appeared to be too large to be Iran's first enriched uranium facility, suggesting that Iran might already have been operating a smaller pilot plant elsewhere. However, this assumed that the Iranian enrichment effort was indigenous, rather than a product of collaboration with Pakistan.
According to some estimates, the advanced centrifuge complex might house as many as 50,000 centrifuges, producing enough weapons-grade uranium for several dozen (over 20) weapons per year when completed at the end of the decade. Other estimates suggested the facility would house a total of 5,000 centrifuges when the initial stage of the project was completed in 2005. At that point, Iran would be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons each year.
At a 13 December 2002 briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the facility was being built partially underground, and as such was inconsistent with Iran's claims that its nuclear intentions were peaceful: "It appears from the imagery that a service road, several small structures, and perhaps three large structures are being build below grade, and some of these are already being covered with earth. Iran clearly intended to harden and bury that facility. That facility was probably never intended by Iran to be a declared component of the peaceful program. Instead Iran has been caught constructing a secret underground site where it could produce fissile material." Based upon what Boucher termed "hard evidence," Iran appeared to be constructing a uranium enrichment plant at Nantaz, as well as a heavy water plant. "The suspect uranium-enrichment plant...could be used to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons. The heavy-water plant could support a reactor for producing weapons-grade plutonium. These facilities are not justified by the needs of Iran's civilian nuclear program," he said.
IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei visited the site on 21 February 2003. In a nearby building, workers were assembling parts for 1,000 more centrifuges as of February 2003.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojjatoleslam Hassan Rohani said at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Mosque on 3 March 2003 that nuclear sites at Natanz in Isfahan would be inaugurated early in the Iranian year, which began on 21 March 2003. Rohani said the "gigantic nuclear site of Isfahan" took two years to build and "the use of the nuclear technology would reinforce the authority of Iran's system." Rohani said the Natanz facility would enrich uranium extracted in Yazd Province and that upon the inauguration of the Natanz facility, Iran would be self-sufficient in producing the fuel to run its nuclear-power stations. Such self-sufficiency would obviate the need for nuclear fuel from Russia, thereby eliminating a level of control over Iran's ability to divert spent fuel for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
By mid-2004 the Natanz centrifuge facility was hardened with a roof of several meters of reinforced concrete and buried under a layer of earth some 75 feet deep.
The FEP was originally scheduled to be completed in 2005. The IAEA reported in June 2006, as part of verifying the design documentation supplied by Iranian authorities, that construction work still continued at the FEP facility. The IAEA received the updated design information from Iran concerning the FEP on 8 February 2006. The IAEA estimated that the installation of the first 3000 P-1 centrifuge machines at the FEP was planned for the fourth quarter of 2006 based on the movement of necessary equipment into the FEP buildings. The exact number of centrifuges in operation at Natanz continued to be a source of contention, with conflict numbers reported by various news, intelligence, and other organizations.
Iran resumed work on improved centrifuges after ending its voluntary adherence to the Additional Protocol of the NPT, based on the Pakistani P-2, and referred to locally as the IR-2. As of February 2008 there were no confirmed reports that Iran had actually installed any IR-2 centrifuges at Natanz, in either the Fuel Enrichment Plant, or the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant.
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