Iran's bombIAEA: Iran forced to stop enrichment on 16 November

Published 24 November 2010

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Tuesday that Iran’s uranium enrichment program had shut down a week ago; the stoppage of the enrichment program coincides with the release of detailed expert studies of the Stuxnet virus; the conclusion of the cyber experts is that Stuxnet was aimed not at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor, as initially thought, but rather at destroying Iran’s centrifuge farms; the sustained cyber attacks has already reduced the number of operating centrifuges from 4,920 in May 2009 to 3,772 in September 2010; it appears that the covert campaign Israel and the United States has been conducting against Iran’s nuclear weapons program — a campaign which includes the assassination of Iranian scientists and engineers, blowing up of machinery and supplies, attacks on Revolutionary Guard facilities, and seizing of technology shipments to Iran — is beginning to take its toll

Iran's uranium conversion facility at Isfahan // Source:

Nuclear inspectors monitoring Iran found the country’s enrichment program temporarily shut down a week ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Tuesday, reflecting a possible setback for the cornerstone of the country’s nuclear activities and source of national pride. The UN nuclear monitor offered no reason for the 16 November stoppage witnessed by IAEA staff and described in its latest report on Iran. The inspectors were on site at the Natanz enrichment plant in central Iran for only one or two hours, and it was unclear whether the shutdown lasted just hours, days, or longer. A senior diplomat familiar with the agency’s overview of Tehran’s atomic activities said the Iranians gave IAEA inspectors no time frame or explanation.

The diplomat said he had known of only “two or three” such interruptions since monitoring of large scale enrichment Natanz began more than three years ago. In one case, he said, the Iranians had to change a tank containing the uranium gas fed into centrifuges — a procedure no longer necessary because cascades, or centrifuge configurations used to enrich, now had multiple tanks.

The diplomat — who asked for anonymity because the agency report is confidential — said, however, that technical problems were likely the reason for the most recent interruption.

Diplomats who first told the AP of the interruption on Monday, also could not say what caused it. Some speculation focused on the Stuxnet worm, the computer virus thought to be aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, which experts last week identified as being calibrated to destroy centrifuges by sending them spinning out of control. No one has claimed to be behind Stuxnet, but some analysts have speculated it originated in Israel.

Fox News reports that Iran denied that Stuxnet had succeeded in damaging its nuclear program. The country’s nuclear chief, Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, on Tuesday accused the West of being behind a failed sabotage attempt and said details about the virus became known only after Iran’s “enemies failed to achieve their goals.”

The rare interruption in enrichment is significant against a backdrop of stagnation in the Iranian enrichment effort, appearing to be the latest evidence of serious difficulties in expanding the program after initial rapid growth.

Tehran has taken hundreds of centrifuges off line over the past eighteen months, feeding speculation that enrichment was being hampered by major technical issues.

Iran’s enrichment program is of international interest because the process can create both nuclear fuel and fissile nuclear warhead material. While Iran insists it wants to enrich only to run a nuclear reactor network, its nuclear secrecy, refusal to accept fuel from abroad and stonewalling of IAEA efforts to follow up on suspicions of covert experiments with components of a nuclear weapons program have heightened concerns.

Despite four sets of UN sanctions Iran insists it will never give up its right to enrich. Since it resumed enrichment four years ago, it has amassed enough material for more than two bombs, should it opt to enrich its uranium to weapons-grade levels.

Earlier IAEA reports have documented a drop in operating centrifuges — from 4,920 in May 2009 to 3,772 in September 2010. Tuesday’s report showed an increase as of 5 November, to 4,816 centrifuges turning out enriched uranium. The diplomat said, though, that output actually decreased from September to early November, in an apparent reflection of operating problems.

The 9-page report, which was sent to the IAEA’s thirty-five member nations and the UN Security Council was obtained by the AP. In mentioning the stoppage, the report restricted it to a footnote on the second page that said “no cascades were being fed” a week ago.

Over the past several months, Iranian officials have acknowledged that the Stuxnet code had spread widely through Iranian industrial sites and infected several personal laptops belonging to employees at the country’s first nuclear power plant.

While not confirming or denying the temporary shutdown, Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, said Tuesday that the malicious computer bug had not harmed the country’s atomic program.

One year and several months ago, Westerners sent a virus to (our) country’s nuclear sites,” Salehi said, according to the official IRNA news agency. He did not specify which sites.

They had hoped to stop our speedy peaceful nuclear activities through software. But, with the grace of God, we discovered the virus exactly at the same spot it wanted to penetrate because of our vigilance and prevented the virus from harming (equipment),” IRNA quoted him as saying.