Iran 'very close to producing uranium for nuclear weapon'
Published 05/11/2011 | 05:00
An Iranian facility is being prepared for the production of weapons-grade uranium that would allow Tehran to move rapidly to the construction of its first nuclear weapon, according to a new report.
Officials in Britain last night expressed grave concern about activity at the underground site in Qom, where centrifuges are being installed that could enrich uranium to the density required for weapon use.
A United Nations report to be released next week will reveal details about the Iranian nuclear programme that the UK government hopes will persuade doubting nations that Tehran is on course to build a bomb and not, as it claims, merely creating nuclear energy for civilian or medical needs.
It will be published amid heightened tensions, with Israel's cabinet contemplating a pre-emptive military strike against Iran's nuclear sites and military planners at the Pentagon and ministry of defence refocusing their attention on contingency plans for an attack.
A senior US military official described Iran as the biggest threat to the United States and its allies in the Middle East, surpassing al-Qa'ida, which has been weakened by numerous killings of high-level members.
Britain, France and the US acted together to expose the facility at Qom in 2009. Iran has been forced to admit that it is transferring centrifuges to the site, and the Iranian nuclear authority said it would triple its ability to produce 20pc enriched uranium there, claiming it would be used for medical isotopes at a research reactor.
But, according to intelligence, the Iranians are proposing to produce four times the amount required for the reactor.
Moving from 20pc enriched uranium to 90pc, the level required for weapons-grade material, is a relatively quick process. The site is furthermore on a small scale, when civilian centrifuge facilities are invariably housed in spacious facilities to allow maximum production.
"They would have a whole load of uranium at 20pc on offer at Qom under a mountain that could be very quickly turned into weapons grade material. We find that extremely concerning and hope other countries understand this," said the official.
A Western official said the report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency made a "compelling case" that aspects of Iran's nuclear programme were for "clandestine nuclear purposes".
Meanwhile, none of Muammar Gaddafi's known chemical arsenal was plundered during the civil war, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. (© Daily Telegraph, London)