More than a third of the increased output came from a formerly secret installation called Fordow, which began enriching uranium last month from inside a heavily fortified bunker carved into a mountain in northwestern Iran, the IAEA inspectors found.
Iran already has enough enriched uranium to build four nuclear weapons, if it decides in the future to do so. The shift to underground bunkers and a larger stockpile of the highly enriched uranium, however, could shorten the amount of time needed for Iran to develop a weapon, U.S. officials and nuclear experts say.
Iran would probably have to take additional steps, including kicking U.N. inspectors out of the country, before it is able to assemble a bomb.
Still, the jump in production was immediately criticized by U.S. and European officials who said Iran had undermined its credibility with a provocative spike in its production of nuclear fuel at at time when Iranian leaders were signaling an interest in restarting nuclear talks with the West. U.S. officials noted that Iran also sharply increased the number of centrifuges making enriched uranium at its main nuclear facility at Natanz.
“Iran’s actions demonstrate why Iran has failed to convince the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Unless Iran changes course, “its isolation from the international community will only continue to grow,” Vietor said.
The report by the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog was the first since the breakdown last week of an extraordinary round of negotiations between the IAEA and Iranian nuclear officials. U.N. officials confirmed early reports that Iran had stonewalled the agency’s efforts to investigate allegations that Iran’s scientists had conducted extensive research on how to build a nuclear warhead.
“No agreement was reached between Iran and the agency,” the report said, adding that Iranian officials twice refused an IAEA request to visit a key research facility where some of the alleged experiments were said to have occurred.
Iran dismissed the IAEA’s concerns about alleged nuclear weapons research “largely on the grounds that Iran considered them to be based on unfounded allegations,” said the report, prepared in advance of a meeting next month of the Vienna agency’s 35-nation board of governors.
As a signatory to the international Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran is required to grant the IAEA access to its nuclear facilities to ensure that no nuclear material is being diverted to a nuclear weapons program. IAEA inspectors have unearthed no direct evidence that Iran is working on a building a bomb. But Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium has fueled fears in the West that the country’s leaders are at least seeking the option to develop nuclear weapons in the future. Iranian officials say the country’s nuclear program is intended only for electricity production.