Iran is moving quickly to defuse Western concern about its
nuclear ambitions, as the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency
released a critical confidential report, leaked widely this week,
detailing Iran's 18-year clandestine uranium enrichment program.
While UN inspectors found "no evidence ... related to a nuclear
weapons program," Iran was chastised by the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) for concealing "many aspects" of its nuclear
effort that deal with the "most sensitive aspects" of the nuclear
As it prepares for a Nov. 20 meeting of its Board of Governors on
Iran, the IAEA said it welcomed decisions by the Islamic Republic
this week to halt all uranium enrichment efforts and accept snap
inspections by adopting the Additional Protocol of the
Iran's new openness could shed light on a nuclear program that
has unsettled international observers because of its secrecy. It may
also yield a less obvious advantage: Increased safety expertise from
abroad that could curb the risks of a nuclear accident.
In its report, the agency said it required a "particularly robust
verification system," and that, "given Iran's past pattern of
concealment, it will take some time" to conclude the peaceful nature
of the programs.
Striving to conform with an Oct. 31 ultimatum set to come clean
on its ambitions, Iran acknowledged a centrifuge and laser uranium
enrichment program, as well as the separation of small amounts of
"The failures that Iran has been reproached for are minor, and
only on the order of a gram or milligram," Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's
envoy to the IAEA, was quoted as saying on state television. Though
some test results are still out, experts say that traces of highly
enriched uranium found in Iran over the summer were "molecular."
With the United States and European governments focused on trying
to slow Iran's alleged attempt to build a bomb, safety issues have
been largely overlooked.
That reluctance is likely to ease after Iran's deal in
Octoberwith the European foreign ministers of Britain, France, and
Germany which offered eventual access to civilian nuclear technology
and expertise, in exchange for Iran coming clean about nuclear
Najmedin Meshkati, a nuclear expert at the University of Southern
California, says the deal could bring Iran's nuclear program in from
the cold when it comes to safety issues. Referring to the agreement
promising "longer-term cooperation," Meshkati said: "I hope that it
means state-of-the-art nuclear safety technology too."
The risks of isolation and secrecy have already manifested
themselves, according to IAEA officials who asked not to be
identified. They detail two incidents at a small five-megawatt
research reactor in Tehran.
In one case in 2001, at least two control rods became stuck, but
the reactor shut down properly without any release of radioactivity,
the IAEA sources say.
And earlier this year, a similar incident occurred, prompting the
Iranian authorities to ask for assistance from the IAEA to resolve
the problem. The IAEA recommended replacing the aging stainless
steel rods and buying new instrumentation for the reactor, which was
supplied to Iran by a US firm in 1967. …