May 12, 2006

UN finds new uranium traces in Iran: diplomats

By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors have discovered new
traces of highly-enriched uranium on nuclear equipment in Iran,
deepening suspicions Tehran may still be concealing the full
extent of its atomic enrichment program, diplomats said.

Several Western diplomats said there were signs Iran
continued to pursue uranium enrichment research in secret and
fear the goal is to acquire the capability to produce
enriched-uranium fuel for weapons -- a charge Iran denies.

In its April report to the U.N. Security Council, the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it took samples
from equipment that had been acquired by a former research
center at Lavizan-Shiyan. The center was razed in 2004 before
IAEA inspectors could examine it.

The IAEA inspectors took swabs from the machinery earlier
this year which were subjected to microscopic particle

"Preliminary analysis by the IAEA showed traces of
highly-enriched uranium in the samples," a Western diplomat
accredited to the IAEA told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

He gave no details about the equipment. The former physics
center at Lavizan, which advised the defense ministry, acquired
some dual-use machinery useable for uranium enrichment.

A diplomat in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, confirmed
the new finding but warned against exaggerating its
significance: "It's no smoking gun. There could be many
explanations. But it increases pressure on Iran to come clean
about Lavizan."

Iranian officials declined to comment for this article.

In 2003, the IAEA found traces of highly-enriched uranium
(HEU) at several sites in Iran. Most HEU is now believed to
have come from contamination on second-hand Pakistani

"Even if it is the same contamination, this is a
significant finding because it indicates something was going on
at Lavizan," said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons
inspector and head of the Institute for Science and
International Security think-tank.


He said it raised the question of whether Iran ran a second
parallel enrichment program alongside the one it has declared.

The finding will probably also deepen suspicions among
Western countries that Iran's military was actively involved in
the program for uranium enrichment, a process of purifying
uranium for use in nuclear power plants or atomic weapons.

Iran says it only wants to generate electricity, but the
West believes the secrecy and military links to its atomic
program are clear signs that it is also aimed at making bombs.

The U.N. Security Council has called on Iran to freeze its
enrichment program, but Tehran refuses.

Iran has already succeeded in purifying uranium to
low-grade levels needed for power plants. Western diplomats say
the sophistication of Iranian nuclear scientists is surprising.

They say that during a 2-1/2 year suspension of its
enrichment program, Iranian scientists have significantly
improved their mastery of centrifuges, which purify gas of a
uranium compound by spinning at supersonic speeds.

"Our (intelligence) assessment is that you cannot explain
Iran's progress without secret (enrichment) sites being
involved," said a diplomat from a country critical of Iran.

Others say Iran could have made such progress through
simulation work.

Another diplomat from the same country said he suspected
small amounts of processed uranium gas were being diverted from
Isfahan, possibly to undisclosed enrichment sites in Iran. An
EU diplomat said the IAEA had such suspicions too but no proof.

Albright said there was no proof of any "secret site" in

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich and Francois Murphy
in Vienna)