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Iran has moved centrifuge work from site allegedly hit by Israel to Natanz — IAEA

Move comes just weeks after Tehran said it set up another site for producing centrifuges in Isfahan, where UN watchdog doesn’t have access to data collected by its cameras

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)
Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

Iran has shifted all the centrifuge production equipment from a nuclear site allegedly targeted by Israel to the underground Natanz facility, according to a Wednesday report.

Citing a statement from International Atomic Energy Agency, Reuters said the move came just six weeks after Tehran had established another site at Isfahan equipped with the machines required to produce centrifuges.

In February, Iran informed the UN nuclear watchdog it had stopped production at the Karaj workshop after the site was allegedly struck last June in an Israeli “sabotage” operation.

Tehran initially refused to allow IAEA inspectors into the site to replace the cameras damaged in the alleged attack, but in December struck an agreement with the watchdog and new cameras were installed.

Weeks later, however, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said the agency was informed by Tehran of its intention “to produce centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows at a new location in Isfahan.”

Grossi noted the IAEA “could adjust its surveillance and monitoring measures accordingly.”

Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami, right, and International Atomic Energy Agency director general Rafael Mariano Grossi shake hands at the start of their meeting in Tehran on March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“A few days later, Agency inspectors applied seals on all the relevant machines in the Karaj workshop, placed them under containment and then removed the surveillance cameras installed there,” he said at the time.

And on January 24, IAEA inspectors set up cameras at a site in Isfahan “to ensure the machines intended for the production of centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows were under monitoring,” the UN watchdog said.

But the IAEA does not currently have access to the data collected by its cameras at the new Isfahan workshop under the agreement with Tehran, and not much is known about the site in Isfahan.

“Without access to the data and recordings collected by these cameras, the agency is unable to confirm whether the production of centrifuge components at the workshop in Isfahan has begun,” the report sent out Wednesday to IAEA member states said.

Last April, the Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. In 2020, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the site, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran has said it was rebuilding the facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran (IRIB via AP)

On Wednesday, Iran said it supplied the IAEA with documents explaining the discovery of suspect enriched uranium traces, according to state media.

The statement marked the first acknowledgment from Tehran that it had answered the agency’s long-standing demands.

The head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, said Iran on March 20 had sent the requested explanations about several former undeclared sites in Iran where there was evidence of past nuclear activity.

The deadline came as part of an agreement announced last month to resolve the problem of undeclared uranium particles in Iran by June — long a source of tension between Tehran and the UN atomic watchdog.

The thorny issue is separate from now-stalled talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which collapsed four years ago when former president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran.

Iran has sharply accelerated its nuclear activities in the years that followed, enriching uranium to levels beyond those in the deal and that the IAEA says are only used by states seeking a weapon.

As the fate of a renewed nuclear deal hangs in the balance, long-sought answers about Iran’s old but undeclared nuclear sites would improve trust and solve a major sticking point in its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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