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New Claims on Iran Nuclear Program Questionable

09 Apr 2011 00:10Comments
CentrifugeArticle.jpgDubious details, dearth of evidence, doubtful source.

[ primer ] The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a longstanding opposition group, claimed on April 7 that the Iranian regime has a secret facility producing centrifuge components for uranium enrichment, a process that can be used for both peaceful energy and nuclear weapons. But the opposition group provided no evidence for its claim and some assertions are highly questionable.

[The NCRI was cofounded by the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO, or MEK), which is designated by the U.S. Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization. According to the State Department's determination, the NCRI is an "alias" of MKO and is thus also identified as a foreign terrorist organization.]

The NCRI alleged that the secret TABA facility, once known as the Iran Cutting Tools company, was taken over by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in 2006.

Over the past four years, the group claims, the TABA factory produced enough composite tubes, molecular pumps, and bellows, among other items, for more than 100,000 gas centrifuges.

The claim that the TABA facility could make centrifuge components may be valid, but the details that NCRI provided about this facility are far less credible. The NCRI did not provide any evidence to confirm these claims.

It is beyond Iran's capability to have procured, manufactured, and assembled items for over 100,000 centrifuges in that time period. This highly questionable claim ignores the great difficulty Iran has had with procuring key items for its centrifuge program in the face of United Nations and bilateral sanctions. If TABA does indeed make centrifuge components, the number produced would be far lower.

NCRI also claimed that this facility primarily makes components for IR-1 centrifuges. The composite tubes that NCRI claimed were manufactured at this plant, however, would be used in a more advanced centrifuge and not the IR-1 machine.

Iran stopped informing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the locations of its gas centrifuge component manufacturing and assembly facilities in 2006. In the past, Iran has utilized existing commercial and military industries to manufacture centrifuge components. As such, it is plausible that the TABA facility makes centrifuge components for AEOI under contract.

Regardless of the validity of NCRI's claims, its presentation detailing the TABA facility highlights the level of uncertainty regarding Iran's uranium enrichment program and the lack of information provided by Iran to the IAEA. Iran would build international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program if it resumed compliance with the Additional Protocol and suspended its centrifuge program as required by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Paul Brannan, a senior research analyst at ISIS, contributed to this report.

David Albright, a physicist and former U.N. weapons inspector, is the president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, D.C. Andrea Stricker is a research analyst at ISIS. This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

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