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IRAN: Secret nuclear plant broke transparency law, says IAEA chief

September 30, 2009 |  6:42 am

El Baradei

The head of the United Nations nuclear enforcement agency said Wednesday that Iran violated transparency laws when it failed to notify international inspectors it was building a second uranium-enrichment plant.

 "Iran was supposed to inform us on the day it was decided to construct the facility. They have not done that," Mohamed ElBaradei, of the  International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a CNN-India interview during a trip to New Delhi. “They have been on the wrong side of the law, you know, insofar as informing the agency about the construction, and as you have seen it, it has created concern in the international community.”

ElBaradei’s comments came the day before Iran was set to meet in Geneva with the U.S. and other world powers to discuss a range of issues, including Tehran’s nuclear program. Washington and its European allies claim that the recent disclosure of what had been a secret nuclear plant is further indication Tehran is determined to produce atomic weapons. 

Iran claims its nuclear program is designed to generate energy for civilian use. Hassan Ghafourifard, a senior member of the Iranian Parliament, told Iran’s Press TV that Tehran would not abandoned uranium enrichment, despite Western threats of new economic sanctions.

“Our patience has a limit,” he said. “We have been discussing this problem for three to four years, and they have always asked Iran to stop enrichment.” 

Iran’s second uranium-enrichment plant is being built underground near a military base outside the holy city of Qom. Tehran claims the plan will house 3,000 centrifuges that enrich uranium up to 5%. Weapons-grade uranium needs at least 90% enrichment.

ElBaradei said the new plant violates international law. Directives by the International Atomic Energy Agency required that Iran notify the U.N. watchdog before construction began, he said. Iran has been citing previous IAEA guidelines that stipulate it must inform the IAEA six months before moving nuclear materials into the plant.

Tehran said the plant, which had been under construction for at least three years, was kept secret to use it as a backup facility in case its main plant at Natanz was attacked.

This has been “a setback to the principle of transparency, to the effort by the international community to build confidence about the Iranian nuclear program because Iran has been on the wrong side of the law," said ElBaradei.

He added: "I do not think, based on what we see, that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program. Whether they have done some weaponization studies, as was claimed by the U.S. and others, this is one of the issues that is still outstanding. But I have not seen any credible evidence to suggest that Iran has an ongoing nuclear program today. I hope that they are not having one."

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed El Baradei. Credit: Reuters