Sept 6 (Reuters) - A U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Monday that Iran is pushing ahead with its atomic work even after a new round of sanctions over its refusal to halt activity the West suspects is aimed at developing bombs.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also voiced concern about Iran’s objections to some of its inspectors and urged it to answer queries about possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme.
Following are excerpts from the report, which will be discussed at the IAEA’s board meeting starting on Sept. 13.
Iran barred two IAEA inspectors in June, accusing them of reporting wrongly that some nuclear equipment was missing. The IAEA has rejected the accusations and said it stood by its staff.
Although it noted that Iran had the right to refuse certain inspectors, the IAEA report said:
“The agency rejects the basis upon which Iran has sought to justify its objection; it is also concerned that the repeated objection to the designation of experienced inspectors hampers the inspection process and detracts from the agency’s ability to implement safeguards in Iran.”
The IAEA has around 200 people trained to conduct inspections in the Islamic state. Iran denied entry to a senior U.N. inspector in 2006. The new report suggested that Iran had also rejected other appointed inspectors in the past.
Since 2005, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a missile cone to make it suitable for an atomic warhead.
In his report on Monday IAEA chief Yukiya Amano reiterated that it is concerned about possible current bomb research and not just possible work carried in the past. The IAEA believes the activity may have continued beyond 2004.
“Since August 2008, however, Iran has declined to discuss the outstanding issues with the agency or to provide any further information or access to locations and people necessary to address the agency’s concerns,” the report said.
It urged Iran to engage with the IAEA on the issues and allow it to visit relevant sites, have access to all relevant equipment and documentation, and be allowed to interview all relevant officials “without further delay”.
“The passage of time and the possible deterioration in the availability of some relevant information increase the urgency of this matter,” it said.
* STOCKPILING OF LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM
Iran told inspectors that it had accumulated around 2.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium (LEU), about 370 kg (816 lb) more than at the beginning of May.
That total is enough for about two atomic bombs, if it were to be enriched to 90 percent fissile purity.
Talks have stalled over an IAEA-backed deal for Iran to part with 1.2 tonnes of its LEU in return for medical reactor fuel made in Russia and France.
This had been seen as a way of building confidence a year ago but has lost its initial appeal to the West as Iran’s presses on with its nuclear work.
* HIGHER-SCALE ENRICHMENT
Fuelling Western fears that Iran aims to develop nuclear bombs, Iran in February started producing small batches of 20 percent-enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges at its Natanz pilot plant.
In August, the IAEA said Iran had begun using a second set, or cascade, of centrifuge machines to make the work more efficient.
Under the current setup, the output and enrichment level stay the same and the agency is monitoring the work.
However, the West fears Iran aims to stockpile material to enrich later to 90 percent purity, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.
Iran says it wants to produce fuel for the Tehran medical research reactor but Western officials and analysts say it lacks the capability to finish the plan — the tricky production of the reactor fuel plates using the enriched material.
Analysts say now that Iran has reached the 20 percent mark, it could advance to weapons-grade level quickly since low-level enrichment is the most time-consuming and technically difficult stage of the process.
Iran has told the agency it will continue transferring material in small amounts to the site for higher enrichment. It produced around 22 kg of 20 percent-enriched uranium by late August. The production rate is about 100 g (3.5 oz) a day.
Iran has told the agency it will start installing equipment for producing fuel for the research reactor in November and that experimental production would start in September next year.
The report said Iran had decreased the number of centrifuges actively enriching uranium to 3,772 from 3,936 previously.
Analysts have said the lack of expansion at the site suggests Iran could be concentrating its efforts elsewhere — possibly in an undisclosed location — or possibly having technical difficulties.
Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, adapted from a smuggled 1970s European design, have been plagued by breakdowns caused by a rapid expansion of enrichment in 2007-2008, analysts say.
But Iran is testing an advanced, more durable model able to refine uranium two or three times faster, and says it intends to introduce the model for production in the near future.
The IAEA repeated a request for information on the “third generation” of centrifuges the Islamic Republic has said it has produced. It also called for information on sites for manufacturing centrifuges, details on research and development in uranium enrichment, uranium mining and milling.
Iran has not cooperated.
The report also said Iran had underestimated the amount of nuclear material it had at the Natanz site and provided an update. The agency is seeking to clarify this.
The discrepancy in the inventory, not the first time this has happened in Iran, is a concern for the agency because it needs to keep track of all nuclear material to make sure it is not being diverted for military use.
The IAEA also said it had told Iran to be more careful with agency seals after several were found broken by inspectors. The agency uses seals to make sure Iran does not remove material without its knowledge.
Iran told the agency the breakages were accidents and that it has instructed the operator to be more careful.
Iran agreed in October to inspections at the Fordow enrichment plant, being built inside a mountain bunker, after keeping it secret from the IAEA for three years. The West was angry that Iran had broken anti-proliferation rules.
Iran aims to start the plant near Qom in 2011 but, according to the report, it has not answered all the IAEA’s questions about the site. Tehran says this would go beyond its safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
The report said no centrifuges had been introduced at Fordow yet. Inspectors had been checking for signs of undeclared nuclear activity after finding a small amount of depleted uranium particles on site. However, recent swipes have turned up no traces.
The agency said that Iran had still not provided it with information about its selected venues for its announced new nuclear sites, even though it is obliged to do this under its safeguards agreement.
Compiled by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Michael Roddy