During a press conference by the representative office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran held in Washington, DC in mid-August 2002, the existence of a secret nuclear facility at Natanz was revealed. Israeli military intelligence has also referred to the site as "Kashan."
Natanz is located between Isfahan and Kashan in central Iran. The facility is reportedly 100 miles north of Esfahan, and is located in old Kashan-Natanz, near a village called Deh-Zireh, itself located about 25 miles southeast of Kashan, and falls under the jurisdiction of the Governor's Office of Kashan.
Officially a project aimed at the eradication of deserts, construction on the facility was said to have begun in 2000 and was being carried out by the Jahad-e Towse'eh and Towese'eh-Sakhteman construction companies. As of mid-2002, construction was not due to be completed until 2003, at which point, installation of the technical facilities would begin.
According to the NCRI, as of August 2002, the project had cost 95 billion toumans. Funding had been provided by the Supreme National Security Council and was outside of the supervisory purview of the Budget and Planning Organization. A front company had specifically been created for project. Named Kala-Electric, whose headquarters were located in Tehran, it met all requirements for the project's facilities and equipment and was run by Davood Aqajani, who was also the managing director for the Natanz heavy water project. Officials from the company reportedly made a number of trips to both China and India in 2001. The head of Atomic Enery Agency of Iran, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, reportedly pays visits to the site every months in order to oversee progress on the facility.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) on 12 December 2002 released an issue brief expressing concern that Iran was trying to develop "the capability to make separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the two main nuclear explosive materials." ISIS acquired satellite
imagery of a site in Natanz, about 40 kilometers southeast of Kashan, which could have been a gas-centrifuge facility for uranium enrichment.
Iran strongly rejected the allegations and reiterated that the two plants were intended to generate electricity. "In the next 20 years, Iran has to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity by nuclear plants and the launch of these two centers are aimed at producing necessary fuel for these plants," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said.
Tehran later invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to travel to Iran to inspect both facilities, an offer which has been accepted. "We have been in contacts with the IAEA over these two centers and we will officially invite them for inspections since the agency must inspect them and carry out their necessary planning and supervision before the centers are put into operation," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said.
On 10 February 2003 Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), said that Iran had started an ambitious nuclear energy program and was poised to begin processing uranium. He said that the uranium ore processing plant should come on line soon in the central city of Isfahan and preliminary work had begun on a uranium enrichment plant. Aqazadeh said the first steps had been taken to build an enrichment plant, "but we still have a long way to go to have this plant come onstream." Aqazadeh said the enrichment plant would be built in Kashan (at Natanz) in central Iran. The fuel would come from another facility in Isfahan, where a Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) was close to inauguration.
The IAEA's inspectors visited Iran on 21 February 2003 to look at nuclear facilities under construction there. "We will be looking at facilities not even completed yet that are not formally under safeguards," as chief IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky put it. The visit was the "first step in a process of many visits to understand the architecture of the place and to design the most effective monitoring regime for that facility." American officials believed new nuclear facilities in Iran could be used to make nuclear weapons.
IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei visited the site on 21 February 2003, in the first visit by the UN chartered IAEA. During this visit, the Director General was informed by Iran of its uranium enrichment plant (PFEP) nearing completion of construction, and a large commercial-scale fuel enrichment plant (FEP) also under construction.
It was reported on 26 August 2003, that the IAEA had found particles of highly enriched uranium in environmental samples taken at Natanz. These findings were released in a report whose distribution was initially restricted to the organization's 35-nation Board of Governors.
During the discussions, which took place in August 2004, Iran repeated that, although the design drawings of a P-2 centrifuge had been acquired in 1995, no work on P-2 centrifuges was carried out until early 2002 when, according to Iran, the IAEO management decided that "work on a modified P-2 machine based on a sub-critical rotor design would not hurt," and, in March 2002, a contract to study the mechanical properties of the P-2 centrifuge was signed with a small private company. Iran stated that no feasibility or other preliminary studies or experiments were conducted by Iran during the period between 1995 and 2002.
Iranian officials also stated that, in spite of frequent contacts between 1995 and 1999 on P-1 centrifuge issues with the intermediaries (who, according to Iran, had provided both the P-1 and P-2 drawings), the topic of P-2 centrifuges was not addressed at all in those meetings nor in the course of making any other foreign contacts. Iran attributed this to the fact that a decision had been made to concentrate on the P-1 centrifuge enrichment program, and that, in addition, the IAEO was undergoing senior management and organizational changes during that period of time.
On 9 April 2007, in a speech at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran has now developed the capability to produce enriched uranium which is needed to make nuclear fuel. He claimed that Iran had begun production of enriched uranium using 3,000 centrifuges. At the gathering he said, "As of today, Iran is among the countries which produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale."
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