ISIS Analysis of New Covert Uranium Enrichment Plant Construction Claims

September 9, 2010

The Iran Policy Committee (IPC) today presented evidence from the National Council for the Resistance of Iran (NCRI) that claims to show that Iran is building another covert gas centrifuge uranium enrichment site near Qazvin, west of Tehran. IPC showed satellite imagery of tunnels and claimed that sources inside Iran told them these were tunnels to access underground facilities intended to hold gas centrifuges. Other than the anonymous sources they cite, however, the IPC did not present any evidence that verifies that this site in particular is intended to be an underground enrichment facility. Iran, at any given time, has many tunnel facilities under construction throughout the country, which can be seen on imaging applications such as Google Earth. Whether or not this tunnel facility is indeed a uranium enrichment plant under construction cannot be determined. There is also reason to be skeptical of NCRI’s claims, since so many of their assertions about secret sites have turned out to be unsubstantiated, exaggerated, or wrong.

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be more than justified in asking to visit a range of tunnel facilities in Iran, perhaps including the one identified by the Iranian opposition group. Iran has stated that it has sited ten future underground enrichment plants and announced that it will soon begin construction of one of them. Construction work may have already started. Iran has stated that it is not required to notify the IAEA about the construction of the first site until the plant is nearly complete, a position the IAEA rejects.

In 2009, the United States, Britain, and France revealed that Iran was constructing a covert uranium enrichment plant near Qom without notifying the IAEA. The IAEA should not have to depend on Western intelligence agencies to learn about undeclared nuclear facilities.

Undoubtedly, the IAEA has used commercial satellite imagery to identify many underground sites in Iran that could be suitable for a gas centrifuge plant. If Iran does not allow visits to underground sites or other suspect sites, the IAEA should call for a special inspection of these sites. There are many such sites, but the number is not unmanageable. Although it is unusual to use special inspections to conduct such a broad search, Iran’s actions leave the IAEA with little choice in its effort to account for Iran’s undeclared nuclear facilities and activities.

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