Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Iran temporarily stops work at Natanz enrichment facility. Due to Stuxnet worm?

Enrichment facility at Natanz (EPA)

Iran temporarily halted most of its uranium enrichment work earlier this month, the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA said in a report, an unusual move which Western diplomats said they believed was linked to technical problems.The confidential report, obtained by Reuters, did not say why or for how long Iran stopped feeding material into all centrifuge machines used to refine uranium to a low level.
It also said Iran's uranium stockpile had continued to grow and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remained concerned about possible activity in Iran to develop a nuclear payload for a missile.

Security experts have said the release of the Stuxnet computer virus could have been a state-backed attack, possibly by Israel or another enemy of Iran, aimed at sabotaging the Islamic Republic's nuclear enrichment programme.

"Was the Stuxnet worm responsible for these disruptions or were they caused by some other event or problem?" said the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security in an analysis.

Any delay in Iran's enrichment campaign could buy more time for efforts to find a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with six world powers -- the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain -- over the nature of Tehran's nuclear work.

Iran has tentatively agreed to meet a representative of the six powers early next month, for the first time in over a year, but analysts do not expect any breakthroughs soon in the long-running dispute.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, denied that his country's nuclear programme was experiencing problems.

"There is no problem at all and the enrichment is continued without any interruption," he told Reuters Television. "If a couple of machines are up and down, it is absolutely normal in any industry."

Despite the temporary halt in enrichment, Iran's total output of low-enriched uranium (LEU) has reached 3.18 tonnes since early 2007, the IAEA report said, suggesting Iran had maintained steady production in recent months.Experts say that amount could be enough for at least two bombs if refined to a much higher level.

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