A new report by the United Nations' nuclear agency claims that Iran has ramped up production of a purer form of enriched uranium over the past few months. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency was obtained by The Associated Press and other news outlets and it's likely to further suspicions from Western countries that Iran might be working on a nuclear weapon.
The New York Times says that the report alleges Iran is enriching the uranium at a deep underground site near the holy city of Qum. The Times adds:
"The agency's inspectors found in their most recent visits that over the past three months Iran has tripled its production capacity for a type of fuel that is far closer to what is needed to make the core of a nuclear weapon. The report about progress at the new facility is likely to inflame the debate over whether Iran is getting closer to what Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, calls a entering "zone of immunity." The phrase refers to a vaguely-defined point beyond which Iran could potentially produce weapons fuel without fear of an air attack that could wipe out its facilities.
"American officials insist that Iran's progress has been halting at best, and the report also shows that despite Iran's repeated boasts it is still having trouble deploying significant number of next-generation equipment to make fuel. The United States also argues that Iran's program has a number of vulnerabilities should it decide to develop a bomb. American intelligence officials say they do not believe Iranian leaders have made that decision, though Israeli and British intelligence disagree."
Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes.
But the IAEA report says that visits from its experts this week failed to clear up questions about its program. The BBC says the report also claims Iran has partially installed "2,000 empty centrifuge casings at its Fordo uranium enrichment facility." According to the Times, the report indicated that 696 centrifuges, used to enrich uranium by spinning it at supersonic speeds, are now installed, "meaning the facility is approaching its design capacity."
The Washington Post explains that Iran has maintained that it will use the enriched uranium for its nuclear power plants.
"But although nuclear reactor fuel requires 5 percent enriched uranium, Iran has recently begun making 20 percent enriched uranium at both its main facility in Natanz and the secretly built underground complex known as Fordow," the Post reports. "With further refinement, the uranium stockpile can be converted to weapons-grade nuclear fuel."