Iran’s Construction at Underground Nuclear Site Raises Tensions

Iran is constructing a building adjacent to their Fordo underground nuclear facility, leading some to speculate it’s part of their ongoing efforts to perfect a nuclear weapon.

The Associated Press obtained a photo of the construction, which appears to show a foundation with dozens of pillars, probably of reinforced concrete. The construction practice is common in earthquake zones.

Fordo is constructed inside a mountain and many Western experts believe it was the site of intensive nuclear research. Subsequent inspections of the facility by the IAEA found no current evidence of weapons activity, but the research had a “dual use” for both military and civilian applications.

The Iranians successfully hid the facility until 2009, at which point they had plenty of time to “clean up” the site and scrub it of any evidence of bomb-making. While the purpose of the new facility under construction is unknown, there are several buildings that support the activities at Fordo.

“Any changes at this site will be carefully watched as a sign of where Iran’s nuclear program is headed,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Iran.

Asked for comment, Iran’s mission to the United Nations told the AP that “none of Iran’s nuclear activities are secret,” given the ongoing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“We have always maintained that our current activities, which are in line with (the nuclear deal), can and will be immediately reversed once the other parties, including the U.S., come into full compliance with what was agreed upon, in particular on removing sanctions,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said. He did not elaborate.

Iran claims Fordo is “a nuclear, physics and technology center.” Previously, it housed the most sophisticated centrifuges in Iran and spun up uranium to the 20 percent enrichment level.

Now, the Iranians have apparently created even more advanced centrifuges, leading to speculation they could quickly convert the 20 percent enriched uranium to the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon.

As of now, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Iran’s parliament has passed a bill that requires Tehran to enrich up to 20%, a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. The bill also would throw out IAEA inspectors.

Experts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium stockpiled for at least two nuclear weapons, if it chose to pursue them. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.

Ban inspectors, build a new facility, and install advanced centrifuge technology — but we should reenter an agreement that they didn’t comply with in the first place? Every American president from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump has said it’s absolutely imperative that we prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

But with Iran, talk is cheap.

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