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Iran's nuclear disclosures: why they matter

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"Iran presents the most serious single security challenge in the Middle East," writes Anthony Cor­des­man, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in a just-published book on the implications of Iran's weapons programs.

US had been looking for a covert facility

Seen in satellite photos, the newly revealed Iranian facility near Qom looks as if it could be a Wal-Mart, a school, or a factory. But it's intended to house about 3,000 gas centrifuges, according to both Iranian and US officials. In terms of uranium-enrichment capability, that would make it a modest plant.

But to many US proliferation experts, Qom represents the danger of a second fuel cycle foretold. That's because Iran already has a large centrifuge farm, near Natanz. There, it has 8,300 installed centrifuges, though only about half are actually enriching uranium. It is big enough to house 54,000, according to the US.

Natanz itself was revealed to the world by an Iranian dissident group in 2002. Iran says the facility is intended to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in nuclear power reactors. Today it is under scrutiny by Western intelligence services and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, and many experts say it would be difficult for Iran to divert enough LEU from the Natanz production line to produce bomb-grade uranium elsewhere.

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