"The third reason for concern is that the Qom site – with a maximum of 3,000 centrifuges - is too small to ever produce the kind of fuel needed for nuclear power. Instead intelligence experts believe it would be an ideal location for Iran to make a quick leap to the production of weapons-grade uranium, which is enriched to a 90 per cent concentration."
Not strictly related to cyber security but IMHO still very interesting.
From today's FT, FYI,
Last updated: January 9, 2012 7:02 pm
Iran criticised over enrichment at Qom bunker
By James Blitz in London and Monavar Khalaj in Tehran
Iran’s decision to begin manufacturing enriched uranium at a highly protected underground bunker was sharply criticised by western powers on Monday, amid suspicions that the move marks a new development in the Islamic state’s drive to build an atomic weapon.
As Iran confirmed that it has already started enriching uranium at the Fordow plant near the holy city of Qom, Britain expressed anger at the move, warning that it was “a provocative act that undermines claims that the programme is civilian in nature”.
“If Iran has nothing to hide, it should seek every opportunity to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions,” said William Hague, the UK foreign secretary.
Germany’s foreign ministry described Iran’s new nuclear enrichment activities as a “further escalation” and said it was confident the European Union will raise new sanctions this month on the country’s oil exports.
However, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, hit back at the west and at plans by the US and EU to impose sanctions. “The Islamic system … knows decisively what it is doing and firmly stands on the path it has chosen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on Monday. “The Iranian nation’s move toward peaks is unstoppable.”
The Supreme Leader, who has the final say on all state matters, added that sanctions imposed on Iran by its enemies would not have any impact.
The decision to start enrichment there was seen by many western diplomats as an indication that Tehran has no intention of negotiating with western powers over its nuclear programme.
The move will also cause concern for other reasons. First, unlike Iran’s primary enrichment site at Natanz, Qom is deep under a mountain and therefore cannot be attacked from the air. Iran has always maintained this is to protect its uranium enrichment programme from aerial bombardment, but development of the site closes down the option for the US and Israel of one day destroying Iran’s nuclear programme through military force.
Second, Iran has announced it is using the Qom site to expand the enrichment of uranium with a concentration of 20 per cent, a far higher level of purity than the 3.5 per cent needed for nuclear power plants.
Iran says it needs the uranium at 20 per cent purity for the manufacture of medical isotopes for cancer cures. But according to scientists, by the time uranium is enriched to the 20 per cent level, nine-tenths of the effort required to produce weapons grade fuel needed for a bomb has been expended.
The third reason for concern is that the Qom site – with a maximum of 3,000 centrifuges - is too small to ever produce the kind of fuel needed for nuclear power. Instead intelligence experts believe it would be an ideal location for Iran to make a quick leap to the production of weapons-grade uranium, which is enriched to a 90 per cent concentration.
Western leaders still believe that Iran’s leaders have not yet taken the strategic decision to build a nuclear weapon. Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, insisted at the weekend that while Iran is building up a wide range of facilities that could be used to make nuclear weapons, it is not yet actively building a bomb.
However, western governments remain concerned that Iran’s tough response to the ramping up of sanctions could see it take action to try and block shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, a key maritime artery through which at least one sixth of the world’s oil trade passes each year.
Concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme were not the only issue worrying western capitals on Monday. Also raising tensions was a decision by Iran to sentence to death a former US military serviceman of Iranian descent after finding him guilty of espionage.
The Revolutionary Court convicted Amir Mirzaei-Hekmati, 28, of co-operating with the US and being a member of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr Hekmati is the first American to receive a death sentence in Iran since the Iranian revolution more than 30 years ago.
Mr Hekmati, who has been imprisoned in Iran since August, had been charged by prosecutors with receiving espionage training at US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq before infiltrating Iran.
The White House said accusations against Mr Hekmati were false. In the meantime, political analysts said Mr Hekmati’s case would increase pressure on President Barack Obama in an election year, emboldening those who want the US to take a tougher stance on Iran.
Three pillars of the Iranian nuclear programme
Ballistic missile development: Iran has tested missiles that can now reach Israel, southern Russia and US bases in the Middle East. Last year, Tehran conducted a test of the Sajjil-2 missile, which can be fired at short notice from deep within Iranian territory and is therefore less susceptible to a pre-emptive attack
Uranium enrichment: Iran has enriched enough uranium at its main site at Natanz to produce four nuclear weapons. By starting enrichment at a second site near Qom, it is establishing a location that cannot easily be attacked from the air. It also says it will enrich uranium at a concentration of 20 per cent – a level close to weapons grade
Creating a weapon: To develop a viable weapon, Iran needs to design and build a warhead that can also be integrated into a ballistic missile. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in November there was a ‘credible’ case that ‘Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device’