Laser uranium enrichment

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iran has restarted a laser uranium enrichment program under the cover of a medical and industrial laboratory equipment company, a U.S.-based Iranian exile said on Thursday, but some experts were wary of the claim. Alireza Jafarzadeh, former spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian opposition group which first disclosed Iran's nuclear program in 2002, said new facilities for the program have been built at Lashkar Ab'ad, west of Tehran. Jafarzadeh said he received the information from sources who had been proven accurate in the past and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to immediately inspect the new facilities operating as a company called Paya Partov. Although Jafarazadeh was proven right about the 2002 disclosure, some of his subsequent claims have not been confirmed. "That hall (facility) has not been declared to the IAEA. This hall has not been inspected by the IAEA," Jafarzadeh told a news conference in New York. "This has all the signs of a very advanced, extensive program."

Iran has previously admitted to the IAEA that it established a laser uranium-enrichment plant at Lashkar Ab'ad in 2000, which it had kept secret from the U.N. nuclear watchdog. It says it no longer works with laser enrichment. "The information I have gotten from my sources suggests that Iran is heavily involved in laser enrichment programs -- something Iran has told the IAEA that they have abandoned," Jafarzadeh said. But David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, was wary of Jafarzadeh's claims and questioned why Iran would put a secret enrichment site at a location likely to be on an IAEA inspection list. "They have got to produce some evidence of what's going on inside that building," Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, said. "This is just a building and an address and some names." Paul Leventhal, head of the Nuclear Control Institute, said the IAEA should investigate Jafarzadeh's claims immediately because the National Council of Resistance had turned up accurate information in the past. "It doesn't surprise me that laser enrichment work may be being pursued in Iran in secret locations," Leventhal said. "My feeling is the agency is not pursuing as aggressively as it should be the leads provided by the (Iranian) opposition."

Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium for use as fuel for power plants or weapons. Laser enrichment is a high-tech, but inefficient, method of purifying uranium. Western leaders have condemned Iran's disregard of an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium, an activity Iran says it is pursuing to produce electricity.
The United States said on Wednesday Iran was "aggressively" pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies. Washington said Iran should face sanctions now, but EU allies said it was not too late for a negotiated solution.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters




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