UN atomic watchdog confirms Iran installing new centrifuges

A handout picture released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on September 8, 2019, shows the head of the organization Ali Akbar Salehi (L) and Acting Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

UN atomic watchdog confirms Iran installing new centrifuges

  • The IAEA said it had verified that the centrifuges were either installed or being installed
  • IAEA tells Iran 'Time is of the essence’ as it presses for answers

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog told Iran on Monday there is no time to waste in answering its questions, which diplomats say include how traces of uranium were found at a site that was not declared to the agency.
It also said Iran was starting to follow through on its pledge last week to further breach its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, this time installing more advanced centrifuges and moving toward enriching uranium with them, which the deal bans.
Diplomats say Iran has yet to explain to the International Atomic Energy Agency how the uranium particles ended up at what Tehran has said was a carpet-cleaning facility.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vehemently opposes Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers, first pointed to the site last year, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” and saying it had housed unspecified radioactive material that had since been removed.
Details of IAEA inspections are confidential and the agency generally does not comment on them. But the IAEA’s acting chief made clear that in meetings in Tehran on Sunday he pushed Iran to improve cooperation with the UN non-proliferation watchdog.
“Time is of the essence,” Cornel Feruta, who took over as IAEA chief in an acting capacity after the death of his boss Yukiya Amano in July, told a news conference during a quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting.
“I think that was a message very well understood,” he said of his meetings with officials including Iran’s foreign minister and its nuclear energy chief.
The IAEA has told member states that Iran has had two months to answer its questions, though it has only given a very general description of the issue because it is confidential, diplomats who attended a briefing by its inspections chief last week said.
At the same time, the Vienna-based IAEA has not yet sounded the alarm because such questions are part of a painstaking process that can often take many months.
“We are very, let’s say rigorous, meticulous and we are faithful to our mandate,” Feruta said, without going into specifics.
The 2015 nuclear deal only lets Iran enrich uranium with just over 5,000 of its first-generation IR-1 centrifuge machines. It can use far fewer more advanced centrifuges for research but without accumulating enriched uranium.
But in response to US sanctions imposed since Washington withdrew from the deal in May last year, Iran has been breaching the limits it imposed on its atomic activities step by step.
Last week the Islamic Republic said it would exceed the deal’s limits on research and development, the term applied to Iran’s use of technologically advanced centrifuges.
An IAEA spokesman said Iran had informed it that it was making modifications to accommodate cascades — or interconnected clusters — of 164 of the IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuge. Cascades of the same size and type were scrapped under the deal.
IAEA inspectors have verified that smaller numbers of various advanced centrifuges had been or were being installed, the spokesman added.
“All of the installed centrifuges had been prepared for testing with UF6,” though none of them were being tested with UF6 on Sept. 7 and 8, he said, referring to the uranium hexafluoride feedstock for centrifuges.
He added that Iran had also informed the agency it would modify lines of research centrifuges so that enriched uranium was produced, which is not allowed under the deal.
In a confidential report to member states, the IAEA also said Iran had made those modifications on some lines. 


‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

Updated 07 August 2020

‘No way we can rebuild’: Lebanese count huge losses after Beirut blast

  • The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion
  • The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest

BEIRUT: Beirut residents began trying to rebuild their shattered lives on Friday after the biggest blast in the Lebanese capital’s history tore into the city, killing at least 154 and leaving the heavily indebted nation with another huge reconstruction bill.
The search for those missing since Tuesday’s blast intensified overnight, as rescuers sifted rubble in a frantic race to find anyone still alive after the explosion smashed a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.
Security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the government and a political elite, who have presided over a nation that was facing economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.
The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old, sitting in the family home in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where highly explosive material was stored for years, a ticking time bomb next to a densely populated area.
As Abdou spoke, a domestic water boiler fell through the ceiling of his cracked home, while volunteers from the neighborhood turned out on the street to sweep up debris.
“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.
“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.
The government has promised a full investigation and put several port employees under house arrest. State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived.
Shockwaves
Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion — a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150% of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.
Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.
In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
The weeping mother of one of the missing called a prime time TV program on Thursday night to plead with the authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found — dead — hours later.
Lebanese Red Cross Secretary General George Kettaneh told local radio VDL that three more bodies had been found in the search, while the health minister said on Friday the death toll had climbed to 154. Dozens are still unaccounted for.
Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues. He was sitting in a church where the head from the statue of the Virgin Mary had been blown off.
“I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked in the blast. His shin was bandaged.
“I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said. “How can you survive here, the economy is zero?“
Offers of immediate medical and food aid have poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.
He was greeted on the street by many Lebanese who asked for help in ensuring “regime” change, so a new set of politicians could rebuild Beirut and set the nation on a new course.
Beirut still bore scars from heavy shelling in the 1975-1990 civil war before the blast. After the explosion, chunks of the city once again look like a war zone.