Fact Check: Israeli claims on Iran nuclear program

By Brian Murphy

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 6:49 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. Israel has led the speculation that Iran could be moving closer to having all the pieces ready for a nuclear weapon. Israel also fears the negotiations could leave intact the mainstays of Iran's nuclear network: The ability to enrich uranium and produce atomic fuel.

Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Israel's prime minister and other officials are at the forefront of claims about the extent and aims of Iran's nuclear capabilities. Benjamin Netanyahu has said his nation is ready, if necessary, to stand alone to stop any moves by Tehran toward possible nuclear weapons.

Iran has described the Israeli statements as scare-mongering that seeks to undermine nuclear talks between Tehran and six world powers, including the United States. The next round of the talks is to begin in Geneva on Thursday. Iran insists it rejects nuclear arms and only seeks reactors for energy and medical applications.

Israel has led the speculation that Iran could be moving closer to having all the pieces ready for a nuclear weapon. Israel also fears the negotiations could leave intact the mainstays of Iran's nuclear network: The ability to enrich uranium and produce atomic fuel.

Some of Israel's claims are based on clear evidence — number of Iran's enrichment centrifuges, for example — but context and elaboration is often needed for a more complete picture.

CLAIM: At an Oct. 27 meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, Netanyahu said "improvements" in Iran's nuclear program over the past year would allow it push past the "barrier" of 20 percent enriched uranium — the highest level acknowledged by Iran — to reach 90 percent enrichment within "weeks at most." Uranium at 90 percent enrichment is close to weapons grade.

DETAILS: Netanyahu may be talking about the amount of 20 percent material now on hand. This is close to 200 kilograms (440 pounds). Experts say 250 kilograms (550 pounds) would be needed to produce a single bomb by enriching that amount to above 90 percent. There is significant debate over a possible timetable, but many experts say it could be several months or longer, based on the hypothetical scenario that Iran would move ahead with higher enrichment.

Netanyahu also could be referring to the number of centrifuges installed over the past year or upgrades that allow faster production of enriched uranium. Except for a test station, however, none of the new generation machines are running.

CLAIM: At the same Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Iran's planned heavy water reactor in the city of Arak has "no connection with energy for peace, but only for nuclear weapons."

DETAILS: The heavy water reactor — currently under construction in central Iran — uses a molecular variant of water as a coolant and can use natural, non-enriched uranium as a fuel. Such reactors produce a higher amount of plutonium as a byproduct. The plutonium can be reused in nuclear weapons production, but needs a special extraction and enrichment process that Iran currently does not possess. Iran has not released details on its plans for plutonium, but said the reactor's main purpose is to produce isotopes for cancer treatment and other medical uses. Iran has said it will allow 24-hour video surveillance at the reactor by the U.N.'s nuclear agency. Similar round-the-clock monitoring is in place at other enrichment and nuclear sites.

CLAIM: Israel's Security Cabinet said on Oct. 15 that Iran has "systematically defied" U.N. Security Council resolutions to halt uranium enrichment.

DETAILS: The U.N. Security Council in July 2006 passed the first in a series of resolutions demanding Iran halt its uranium enrichment program. Iran dismissed the resolution and moved ahead with advances in enrichment, as well as the then-secret construction of a new and fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain south of Tehran.

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