Iran enriching uranium at Fordo plant near Qom
09-Jan-2012 (one comment)

Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a heavily fortified site near the holy city of Qom, the UN has confirmed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - the UN's nuclear watchdog - said the process had begun at the underground Fordo plant.

Iran says it plans to carry out medium-level uranium enrichment - which, say analysts, is an important step towards making it weapons-grade.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes.

The existence of Fordo in the north of the country only came to light after it was identified by Western intelligence agencies in September 2009.

Darius Kadivar


by Darius Kadivar on

Iran's new facility began in secret. The state may have preferred to keep it that way. But in September 2009 the US, France and the UK publicly revealed its existence - a fact that was subsequently confirmed by Iran.

Since then, the new plant has attracted plenty of both attention and suspicion. It has been built underground and it is heavily fortified. In particular, Iran appears to want to guard against potential air strikes. Military experts suggest that the facility may be able to survive attack from all but the most powerful bombs.

Iranian officials suggest that the new plant is an important step forward for the country's nuclear programme. But it is not yet clear how productive the facility will be. Iran says it hopes to carry out what's known as medium-level uranium enrichment at the plant - uranium enriched to 20%.

Western analysts warn that medium-level enrichment is an important step towards enriching uranium to weapons-grade. But Iran stresses that its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.