Iran's nuclear program suffering setbacks

Oct. 18, 2011 at 7:28 AM
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TEHRAN, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Iran's nuclear program seems to be plagued by poorly operating equipment and shortages of parts, Western diplomats and nuclear experts said.

Even though Iran still stockpiles enriched uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions, reports indicate Tehran's nuclear program is beset with problems as scientists work to keep older equipment operational, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Data compiled by U.N. nuclear officials indicate the average output of enriched uranium declined steadily as equipment broke down.

Iranian officials said they will replace older centrifuges -- the machines that produce the enriched uranium -- with faster, more efficient models. However, new centrifuges introduced at the Natanz nuclear facility have parts made of an inferior metal that is weaker and more failure-prone, an Institute for Science and International Security report indicates.

The U.N. inspectors' report showed a drop in output in 2009 and 2010, offering confirmation of a major equipment failure tied to the computer virus Stuxnet. Western diplomats and nuclear experts said the virus' developer meant to attack and disable centrifuges at Natanz to undercut Iran's nuclear bomb-making ability.

"Without question, they have been set back," said David Albright, institute president and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.

While not catastrophic, the mounting problems have "hurt Iran's ability to break out quickly" as one of the world's nuclear powers, Albright said.

Western officials maintain Iran's nuclear program is to make weapons while Iran says its intentions are peaceful.

Albright said Iran may have become sloppy as it tries to get advanced materials and technology for its nuclear program and weapons systems, the Post said.

"Their procurement efforts are less thought-through, and they're getting caught a lot more, which suggests that they are becoming more desperate," he said.

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