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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Fordo, at Qom (Ghom)

The head of Iran's atomic agency said 13 September 2020 that 1,044 centrifuges were active at the Fordow uranium enrichment plant, in line with steps to reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal. The suspension of all enrichment at the underground facility near the Shiite holy city of Qom was one of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities that it accepted in return for the lifting of international sanctions in the 2015 landmark accord. Tehran first announced the resumption of enrichment at Fordow in November 2019, the fourth phase of its push since May 2019 to progressively suspend commitments to the deal. It was in retaliation to Washington's abandonment of the accord in May 2018 followed by its unilateral reimposition of sanctions.

Iran continued to distance itself from its 2015 nuclear deal by stepping up activity at its underground Fordow nuclear plant. The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told state TV on 06 November 2019 that the agency delivered 2-thousand kilograms of Uranium to the plant, emphasizing that it was all conducted under the supervision of UN inspectors. Iran's move meant Fordow moved from its permitted status of research plant to an active nuclear site. Before the deal, Iran used Fordow to enrich uranium to 20 percent fissile purity. Officials have said Tehran could again enrich uranium to 20 percent but there is no need for that right now.

Iran's decision to inject uranium gas into centrifuges at Fordow, a move that further distances Iran from the accord, was described by Russia as extremely alarming. Iran once hid Fordow from the IAEA until its exposure by Western spies in 2009. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concern about Tehran's announcements but said European powers should do their part. "They are demanding that Iran fulfil all [obligations] without exception, but are not giving anything in return," he told reporters in Moscow. The Kremlin has previously called sanctions against Iran "unprecedented and illegal". The new nuclear activity was the fourth step announced by Iran since it began responding to Washington's abandonment of the nuclear deal in 2018.

The cancellation of the nuclear deal will give Iran the opportunity to enrich uranium at its factories in Natanz and Fordo, Tasnim News Agency reported 21 September 2018, citing representative of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Behrouz Kamalundi. "Now there are about six thousand centrifuges in Natanz. At the Fordo plant, enrichment is not being carried out, but in the event of Iran's withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the relevant decision of the management, we will again launch the uranium-processing plant at Fordo," he said. However, he stressed that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.

Fordo, about 60 kilometers south of the holy city of Qom, is enshrined in Iranian lore for suffering the greatest per capita losses during the 1980s war with Iraq. Fordo had 104 battlefield “martyrs” in the Iraq war out of a population of about 2,500. The village and the nuclear facility, which is about 40 kilometers north of the city of Qom, are actually separated by more than 80 kilometers. Iran’s message in using the village as the namesake for the nuclear site is unmistakably one of defiance.

Iran notified the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency in a letter on 21 September 2009 "that a new pilot fuel-enrichment plant is under construction," according to Marc Vidricaire, an IAEA spokesman. According to reports, the new facility could be operational as soon as 2010. The facility is located 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran in a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qom.

On 25 September 2009 US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran of building a secret nuclear facility - a charge Iran denied. Mr. Obama, made the announcement Friday at the G20 economic summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The leaders accused Iran's government of building a covert, underground plant to produce nuclear fuels. They insisted the International Atomic Energy Agency have access right away to ensure it is not being built to produce nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama said Western countries presented evidence of the facility to the IAEA Thursday. He said "the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program."

Prior to this disclosure, open sources were not aware of any nuclear related facility in proximity to Qom. US officials are reported to have been monitoring the facility for years. A Bush administration National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons activities identified over a dozen suspect sites, though it was not immediately clear whether this site was included on that list.

Iran's international obligations include its Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/214), which entered into force in May 1974. The 1976 Subsidiary Arrangements to Safeguard Agreements required states to report on new facilities "normally no later than 180 days before the facility is scheduled to receive nuclear material for the first time." In February 2003, Iran agreed to a revised Code 3.1, which requires states to report on a new facility as soon as the decision to construct it is taken. In March 2007, Iran unilaterally announced that it no longer considered itself obligated by that provision of its safeguards agreement.

In a background briefing on 25 September 2009, a Senior Aministration Official stated that "it was evident to everybody, both the United States and our allies, that if the Iranians wanted to pursue a nuclear weapons option the use of the Natanz facility was a very unattractive approach; because the IAEA inspectors were there. ... So the obvious option for Iran would be to build another secret underground enrichment facility, and our intelligence services, working in very close cooperation with our allies, for the past several years have been looking for such a facility. And not surprisingly, we found one. So we have known for some time now that Iran was building a second underground enrichment facility.... it's located near the city of Qom, a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility. We believe that it's not yet operational. We think it's most likely at least a few months, perhaps more, from having all of the centrifuges installed and being capable of operating if the Iranians made a decision to begin operating it. Our information is that the facility is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines. Now, that's not a large enough number to make any sense from a commercial standpoint. It cannot produce a significant quantity of low-enriched uranium. But if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it's the right size.... it would be a terrible mistake if we prematurely disclosed the facility.... we thought it was very important to wait until the facility had reached the stage of construction where it was undeniably intended for use as a centrifuge facility."

On August 30, 2012 the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) quarterly report said Iran was preparing for possible major expansion of uranium enrichment in a fortified underground facility. The report says Iran has produced 189 kilograms of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010 -- up from 145 kilograms since May, when the previous quarterly report was issued. The IAEA's latest report said the number of enrichment centrifuges at Fordo had more than doubled to 2,140 from 1,064 in May. The Fordo facility is extremely controversial for two reasons. First, it is dug into a mountain, making it difficult to bomb -- suggesting it could have a military purpose. Secondly, the centrifuges at the facility are being used to enrich uranium to purities of 20 percent -- far higher than the 4 percent needed for fuel for commercial reactors. Iran has said it is producing the 20 percent-enriched fuel for use in research reactors to produce medical isotopes.

Press reports describe the facility as a hardened tunnel buried under 90 meters of rock. “There is no bomb on earth that can penetrate 90 meters of hard rock. So, bunker busters or guided bombs are of no use to U.S. or Israel if they are to attack. Fordo is a non-penetrable facility to air or missile strike,” according to a senior Iranian military official

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Page last modified: 09-02-2022 18:47:25 ZULU