The Straits Times
Published on Nov 17, 2012

Iran reaches milestone at key nuclear plant


VIENNA (AFP) - Iran is on the cusp of being able to triple output of nuclear material that, if further treated, could be used in the core of a bomb, a new UN atomic agency report shows.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly update said that fitting out of the Fordo plant was now "complete" - despite extreme sanctions pressure.

Fordo, which Iran only told the IAEA about in 2009, began in 2011 to enrich uranium to purities of 20 per cent, a process that lies at the heart of the international community's concerns. Enriched to this level, uranium can be used to produce medical isotopes - Iran's stated intention - but when further enriched, a relatively easy process, it can go in a bomb.

If Iran uses the new machinery at Fordo to enrich uranium to 20-per cent levels - it has not told the IAEA whether this is its aim technically - production could increase from 15 kilos per month now to around 45 kilos, a source said. Experts say that around 250 kilos of 20-per cent uranium is needed to convert into enough 90-percent material for one nuclear weapon. However, deciding to "break out" and enrich to 90-per cent would quickly be detected by the IAEA, likely sparking military action by Israel and the United States.