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Iran would co-operate with inspectors on ‘new activities’, nuclear chief says

Mohammad Eslami, of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, sought to allay concerns after reports about a new underground tunnel system.

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Iran Nuclear New Underground Site

The head of Iran’s nuclear programme has insisted that his government would cooperate with international inspectors on any “new activities”.

His statement followed an exclusive Associated Press report about Tehran’s new underground tunnel system near a nuclear enrichment facility.

The AP outlined this week how deep inside a mountain, the new tunnels near the Natanz facility are likely to be beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites.

The report sparked wider conversation across the Middle East about the construction, with Israel’s national security adviser saying the site would not be immune from attack even if its depth put it out of range of American air strikes.

Iran Nuclear New Underground Site
A new underground facility is being built at the Natanz nuclear site (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting, Mohammad Eslami of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran sought to describe the interest in the site as a case of Israel feeling pressured.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is working under the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards, and whenever wants to start new activities, it will coordinate with the IAEA, and acts accordingly,” Mr Eslami said.

The IAEA did not respond to questions from the AP about the construction at Natanz, about 140 miles south of Tehran. Natanz has been a point of international concern since its existence became known two decades ago.

Satellite photographs of the piles of dirt from the digging and experts who spoke to the AP suggest the new tunnels will be between 80m and 100m deep.

Such underground facilities led the US to create the GBU-57 bomb, which can plough through at least 60m of earth before detonating, according to the American military.

US officials reportedly have discussed using two such bombs in succession to ensure a site is destroyed. It is not clear that such a one-two punch would damage a facility as deep as the one at Natanz.

With such bombs potentially off the table, the US and its allies are left with fewer options to target the site. If diplomacy remains stalled as it has for months over Iran’s nuclear deal, sabotage attacks may resume.

Iran says the new construction will replace an above-ground centrifuge manufacturing centre at Natanz struck by an explosion and fire in July 2020. Tehran blamed the incident on Israel, which has long been suspected of running sabotage campaigns against its programme.

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