Reuters News Service
IAEA found nothing serious at Iran site: ElBaradei
Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:26pm EST
Note from William O. Beeman: When the "secret nuclear site" in Qum, Iran was disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)voluntarily by Iran in September 2009, President Obama claimed that the United States forced the disclosure. The site had no nuclear fissile material in it, and was not operational. Iran claimed that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) they were not required to report such sites until 180 days prior to the introduction of such material. The U.S. and other nations claimed that Iran was bound by an "additional protocol" to the NPT that required them to disclose planned sites even before they were built. Iran never properly ratified the additional protocol, but observed it voluntarily as a goodwill gesture from 2004 to 2007, formally notifying the IAEA that they were suspending this observance. The conversion of the Qum site did not begin until 2008. The brouhaha over the "discovery" of the Qum site was epic. Israel claimed that it "proved" that Iran was building a bomb. Iran immediately invited IAEA inspectors to the site, though they claimed they were not required to do so. As can be seen from the article below, this was a tempest in a teapot. The Qum site contained nothing of any importance, was not operational, and was in effect a bunker--a hole in the ground. The flap over this silly incident demonstrates the extraordinary lengths politicians in Israel and the West will go to demonize Iran's nuclear energy program. There is still no proof whatever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors found "nothing to be worried about" in a first look at a previously secret uranium enrichment site in Iran last month, the International Atomic Energy chief said in remarks published Thursday.
Mohamed ElBaradei also told the New York Times that he was examining possible compromises to unblock a draft nuclear cooperation deal between Iran and three major powers that has foundered over Iranian objections.
The nuclear site, which Iran revealed in September three years after diplomats said Western spies first detected it, added to Western fears of covert Iranian efforts to develop atom bombs. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for electricity.
ElBaradei was quoted in a New York Times interview as saying his inspectors' initial findings at the fortified site beneath a desert mountain near the Shi'ite holy city of Qom were "nothing to be worried about."
"The idea was to use it as a bunker under the mountain to protect things," ElBaradei, alluding to Tehran's references to the site as a fallback for its nuclear program in case its larger Natanz enrichment plant were bombed by a foe like Israel.
"It's a hole in a mountain," he said.
The IAEA has declined to comment on whether the inspectors came across anything surprising or were able to obtain all the documentation and on-site access they had wanted at the remote spot about 160 km (100 miles) south of Tehran.
Details are expected to be included in the next IAEA report on Iran's disputed nuclear activity due in mid-November.
The inspectors' goal was to compare engineering designs to be provided by Iran with the actual look of the facility, interview scientists and other employees, and take soil samples to check for any traces of activity oriented to making bombs.
Western diplomats and analysts say the site's capacity appears too small to fuel a nuclear power station but enough to yield fissile material for one or two nuclear warheads a year.
The Islamic Republic revealed the plant's existence to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog on September 21. It said the site, which remains under construction, would enrich uranium only to the low 5 percent purity suitable for power plant fuel.
Enrichment to the 90 percent threshold provides the fissile material that detonates nuclear weapons.
After talks with Iran and three world powers, ElBaradei drafted a plan for Iran to transfer most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France to turn it into fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes isotopes for cancer treatment.
Russia, France and the United States, which would help modernize the reactor's safety equipment and instrumentation under the deal, see it as a way to reduce Iran's LEU stockpile below the threshold needed to produce material for a bomb.
But since the October 19-21 talks, Iran has made clear it is loath to ship its own LEU abroad because of its strategic value, and would prefer buying the reactor fuel it needs from foreign suppliers. Iran has called for more talks.
Western diplomats say the three powers do not want more talks and that Iran's demands are a non-starter as they would do nothing to remove the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran.
ElBaradei was quoted by the New York Times as saying the problem boiled down to "total distrust on the part of Iran ...
"The issue is timing, whether the uranium goes out and then some time later they get the fuel, as we agreed (tentatively) in Geneva, or whether it only goes at the same time as the fuel is delivered," he said.
"There are a lot of ideas. One is to send (Iran's uranium) to a third country, which could be a friendly country to Iran, and it stays there. Park it in another state ... (for) something like a year..., then ... bring in the fuel. The issue is to get it out, and so create the time and space to start building trust."
(Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Richard Williams)