Article Favoring Idea of Iranian Nuke Testing Draws Concern From West
VIENNA – An article praising the idea of Iran testing a nuclear bomb on a Revolutionary Guard website is raising alarms in western intelligence circles, which interpret it as evidence of strong backing in the Islamic Republic for such a move.
Entitled "The Day After the First Iranian Nuclear Test -- a Normal Day," the article coincides with other public or suspected activities that the United States and its allies see as indications that Tehran wants to possess atomic arms.
"The day after the first Iranian nuclear test for us Iranians will be an ordinary day, but in the eyes of many of us, it will have a new shine, from the power and dignity of the nation," says the article published on the Gerdab site run by the Revolutionary Guard.
A translation that was vetted by The Associated Press was provided by a Western official who asked for anonymity because of the nature of his information.
Iran denies nuclear weapons intentions -- while moving consistently closer to such a capacity.
An International Atomic Energy Agency report last month listed "high-voltage firing and instrumentation for explosives testing over long distances and possibly underground" as one of seven "areas of concern" that Iran may be conducting clandestine nuclear weapons work.
Adding to concerns Wednesday, the country's nuclear chief announced that his country will soon install more advanced equipment at a fortified underground site to allow it to enrich uranium faster and to higher levels.
Iran says it wants to enrich only to power a future network of reactors. But over the past two years it has started to enrich uranium to a level higher than what is needed for nuclear fuel and closer to the grade used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
On Wednesday, Vice President and nuclear head Fereidoun Abbasi announced Iran would increase its capacity to enrich to that higher level -- near 20 percent -- by installing more efficient centrifuges and would triple the output of the higher grade material.
The move comes despite four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt enrichment.
Abbasi said that the new generation centrifuges would be set up at the Fordo site near the holy city of Qom in central Iran.
Built next to a military complex to protect it in case of an attack, Fordo was long kept secret and was only acknowledged by Iran shortly before Western intelligence agencies went public with it in September 2009. The area is heavily protected by the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Low-enriched uranium -- at around 3.5 percent -- can be used to fuel a reactor to generate electricity. But if uranium is further enriched to around 90 percent purity, it can be used to develop a nuclear warhead -- and enriching to 90 percent can be done much more quickly from near 20 percent than from low-enriched material.
Iran has been producing low-enriched uranium for years and began higher enrichment in February 2010, asserting it needs the higher grade material to produce fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes medical radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.
David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security tracks suspected proliferators, said it was unrealistic for Tehran to accelerate production of 20-percent uranium to the degree stated by Abbasi for that one research reactor.
"It doesn't make any sense for civil research purposes," he said. "They are not going to build for or five research reactors."
The article on the website -- along with Wednesday's announcement on enrichment and the IAEA suspicions about secret experiments -- strengthens concerns that "they are moving toward nuclear weapons," he said.
The article ends with an Arabic quote from the Quaran: "And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy."
The official said that the article was first posted in April. The Farsi version was still on the website late Wednesday.
Albright speculated that its publication reflected that at least some powerful Revolutionary Guard factions supported such a test, even if the article did not express the position of the Iranian leadership as a whole.
"This could be reflecting an internal debate," he said.