Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Iran plans to smuggle raw uranium from Kazakhstan

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 29, 2009:

Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday....Such imports are banned by the UN Security Council.

...A senior UN official said the agency was aware of the intelligence report's assessment but could not yet draw conclusions. ...A Western diplomat from a member of the [International Atomic Energy Agency]'s 35-nation board said the report was causing "concern" among countries that have seen it and generating "intelligence chatter." The diplomat also requested anonymity for discussing intelligence information.

A two-page summary of the report obtained by the AP said deal could be completed within weeks. It said Teheran was willing to pay $450 million, or close to 315 million euros, for the shipment.

The price is high because of the secret nature of the deal and due to Iran's commitment to keep secret the elements supplying the material," said the summary. An official of the country that drew up the report said "elements" referred to state employees acting on their own without approval of the Kazakh government.

After-hours calls put in to offices of Kazatomprom, the Kazak state uranium company, in Kazakhstan and Moscow, were not answered Tuesday. Iranian nuclear officials also did not pick up their telephones.

Separately a senior US official who demanded anonymity for talking about confidential information said Washington was aware of the intelligence report, but declined to discuss specifics...

...Iran is under three sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze its enrichment program and related activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Teheran denies such aspirations, saying it wants to enrich only to fuel an envisaged network of power reactors.

Any attempt to import such a large amount of uranium ore would be in violation of those sanctions, which ban exports to the Islamic Republic of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology that could contribute to its enrichment activities...

...The IAEA believes that Iran's rapidly expanding enrichment program has been built on 600 tons of so-called "yellowcake" or uranium oxide imported from South Africa during the 1970s as part of plans by the former regime to build a network of nuclear reactors.

But the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said earlier this year that, based on 2008 IAEA statistics, Iran had already used up close to three-quarters of its South African supply.

In a November report, the IAEA noted that Iran had stopped producing uranium gas from yellowcake in early August and said Iranian officials had notified the agency that the production facility was down for maintenance.

But David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Tuesday that the facility at the city of Isfahan had produced very little for about a year. "They said it was closed for maintenance but the reality is they probably ran out of uranium," he said.

Kazakhstan is among the world's three top producers of uranium, accounting for more than 8,500 tons last year. Iran, in contrast is producing an estimated 20 tons a year - far too little to power even one large reactor let alone the network is says it wants to put in place.
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