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Stuxnet attack on Iran nuclear program came about a year ago, report says

The Stuxnet cyberweapon damaged about one-tenth of the centrifuges at the Iran nuclear facility near Natanz, says a report by a watchdog group. Problems arose in late 2009 or early 2010, it notes.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (c.) visits the Natanz nuclear facility, south of Tehran, in this April 8, 2008, file photo.

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The Stuxnet cyberweapon may have destroyed as many as 1,000 Iranian nuclear-fuel centrifuges – more than one-tenth of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant's capacity – in late 2009 and early 2010, according to a recent report by a nuclear arms-control watchdog group.

Everything appeared to be going well for the Iranian program up through Nov. 16, 2009, the date of a quarterly report by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. At that point, there had been a "steady increase in the number of centrifuges" at Iran's Natanz plant, reaching a peak of 8,692 installed centrifuges.

But by Feb. 18, 2010, the quarterly reports issued by IAEA inspectors began registering problems there, according to a little-noticed analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), released Dec. 23. By then, Iran had pulled the plug on about 1,000 centrifuges it had previously installed, ISIS concluded.

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Though Iran’s centrifuges are known to break and to be replaced frequently, the pace of breakage "exceeded expectations and occurred during an extended period of relatively poor centrifuge performance," ISIS found.

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