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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Natanz (Kashan)

Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP)

IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei visited the site on 21 February, in the first visit by the UN-chartered IAEA. This visit disclosed about 160 new centrifuges in the nuclear complex that were said to have been tested and judged fully operational according to the Bush administration.

The machines at PFEP at Natanz could be recognized as an early European design, and it was not possible to develop enrichment technology, to the level seen at Natanz, based solely on open source information and computer simulations, without process testing with UF6.

There were some indications that the centrifuges Iran was using at Natanz were of Pakistani origin, according to IAEA inspectors and senior US officials. During their February visit to Iranian nuclear facilities, IAEA inspectors were reportedly "shocked" to see that the design of the centrifuges at Natanz were of Pakistani origin. "The question is, where is the factory that supplied the Iranian facility at Natanz?" a senior IAEA official said. "Is it in Pakistan, or is it in North Korea?"

In accordance with its standard practice, the Agency took baseline environmental samples at PFEP at Natanz before nuclear material was introduced in the facility. This baseline sampling campaign was conducted during inspections carried out between March and June 2003, and samples were taken at many locations within the facility. While the Agency had already received the results from some of the samples, which have been provided to Iran, other samples were still being analysed by a number of laboratories that participated in the Agency's Network of Analytical Laboratories.

Iran stated that it had not carried out any enrichment and that no nuclear material was introduced to the PFEP prior to the Agency's having taken its first baseline environmental samples there. However, the sampling results, which were provided to Iran on 11 June 2003, revealed particles of highly enriched uranium. During the 10-13 July and 9-12 August 2003 technical meetings, more complete environmental sampling results were provided to Iran and the matter was discussed further. The PFEP environmental sample results indicated the possible presence in Iran of enriched uranium, material that was not on its inventory of declared nuclear material. During the August 2003 meeting, Iranian authorities indicated that they had carried out extensive investigation with a view to resolving this question, and had come to the conclusion that the enriched uranium particles that had been detected must have resulted from contamination originating from centrifuge components, which had been imported by Iran.

At that meeting, Agency inspectors explained that subsequent environmental sample analysis revealed the presence of two types of enriched uranium, and noted that there had been differences among the samples taken from the surfaces of the centrifuge casings installed for the single machine tests. The Agency asked the Iranian authorities to investigate whether there were differences in the manufacturing history of those pieces of equipment. To investigate this matter further, the Agency took two additional samples from centrifuge components, which were said to have been imported and those said to have been produced domestically.

On 25 June 2003, Iran introduced UF6 into the first centrifuge for the purpose of single machine testing, and on 19 August 2003 began the testing of a small ten-machine cascade with UF6. Iran continued to cooperate with the Agency in implementing safeguards measures subsequently put in place at PFEP for monitoring single machine and small cascade testing.

After Iran agreed to a suspension of all uranium related enrichment and conversion activities, which had been in place since November 2004, the IAEA received a letter on 3 January 2006 from Iran stating its intention to resume enrichment at Natanz. On 7 January 2006, another letter was received from Iran, requesting that the IAEA remove the seals in place at the Natanz facility. Iran subsequently conducted substantial renovation of the gas handling system at the PFEP. On 8 February 2006, Iran released an updated design description for the PFEP to the IAEA. On 11 February 2006, Iran started enrichment tests by feeding a single P-1 centrifuge machine with UF6 gas. By 15 February and 22 February, a 10-machine cascade and 20-machine cascade were also tested.

In April 2006, Iran successfully completed a UF6 feeding campaign using a 164-machine cascade at the PFEP. The enriched product's purity was estimated to be between 3.5 percent to 4.8 percent uranium-235. In May 2006, the IAEA took samples to confirm the enrichment levels of the product. Startin on 6 June 2006, Iran started feeding UF6 into the 164-machine cascade and was working on the installation of another 164-machine cascade at the PFEP. The PFEP was under surveillance by the IAEA, who also worked on containment measures, but the facility was not set up for remote surveillance. Iranian authorities suggested they might be willing to install relevant equipment for this purpose in a variety of their nuclear facilities in statements made during 2008, but by July of that year had not made any moves to do so.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:42:06 ZULU