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Technical woes halt some Iran nuclear machines
Iran has been experiencing significant technical problems with equipment in its uranium enrichment drive and temporarily shut down some of its centrifuge machines, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.
One senior diplomat said Iran acted after suffering power fluctuations but that it was unclear to what extent the Stuxnet computer virus may have been to blame. Iran is using an old centrifuge model which has been dogged by breakdowns for years.
Security experts have said the release of Stuxnet could have been a state-backed attack, possibly from Israel or another foe of Iran, to sabotage the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
Any delays in Iran’s enrichment campaign could buy more time for efforts to find a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain — over the nature of Tehran’s nuclear work.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog was expected later on Tuesday to distribute its latest report on Iran to member states.
Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear programme is meant to produce electricity but Western leaders suspect is a disguised effort to develop nuclear bombs.
“I don’t think you can necessarily blame Stuxnet entirely. There could be some other issues but clearly they have been having some real problems,” the senior diplomat told Reuters.
Another diplomat confirmed Iran had switched off and then restarted centrifuges used to refine uranium but that this had happened also in the past.
A third official said many machines had been removed from the centrifuge hall at Iran’s Natanz plant, but it was unknown whether the machines were refining uranium at the time or not.
The diplomats could not say how many machines had been turned off or when and for how long.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said the country’s enrichment work had not stopped and that its adversaries had not achieved their aims with Stuxnet, which he suggested Tehran had discovered some 18 months ago.
Iran has previously confirmed the virus had infected staff computers at its long-delayed Bushehr nuclear power plant, but had not affected major systems there.
A CHANCE FOR DIPLOMACY?
“Fortunately the nuclear Stuxnet virus has faced a dead end … and the desires and dreams of the enemies have not become true,” ISNA news agency quoted Iranian nuclear programme chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.