Natanz Nuclear Facility in Iran

Despite Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s gloating that Iran is a “nuclear state”, Iran reportedly has encountered problems in expanding its uranium enrichment program at an ambitious rate. According to an article in today’s Washington Post, the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz has experienced declining output levels due to possible technical problems with the centrifuges used to process the uranium. So many centrifuges at Natanz have broken down or been sidelined for unknown reasons that less than half of the 8,700 centrifuges were working in November – a little more than 3,900 machines, down from 5,000 last May.

Experts have speculated that the problems at Natanz may be caused by the use of old centrifuges, poor maintenance practices, and a rush to expand the numbers of centrifuges installed without fully testing them. But Iran is known to be installing a new generation of centrifuges and it could be under-reporting the numbers of centrifuges in operation and their output.

It is unclear whether Tehran deliberately reduced the number of centrifuges in operation to mask its true capabilities or it was forced to do so by technical difficulties. But either way, Tehran’s defiant announcement that it is further enriching uranium to 20 percent shows that it is determined to push ahead with its nuclear program despite international opposition. And it is clear that Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium which it could use to build a nuclear weapon.