FACTSHEET: Iran’s Parchin Site Under IAEA Microscope

What’s the Controversy?

  • IAEA inspectors are insisting on access to one site at Iran’s Parchin facility, a 42-square-kilometer military testing ground. They suspect there is a large metal cylinder at the site, where Iran may have carried out explosions to test the trigger for an atomic bomb, and may even have used natural uranium. This uranium would not cause a chain reaction but is still nuclear material. If such a test involving uranium took place, Iran’s claim of a peaceful-only program would be destroyed.

What Are Inspectors Looking For?

  • Inspectors will be looking for traces of any tests carried out at the metal cylinder, which is reinforced in the middle with concrete to better withstand explosions. The traces could be particles of uranium or even surrogate materials such as tungsten used in explosive tests. Allegedly installed in 2000 the cylinder has not been inspected by the IAEA.

What’s the Background?

  • The IAEA has been investigating Iran since 2003 after hidden nuclear facilities were revealed by a resistance group. The investigation has been stalled since 2008 over questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work.
  • The IAEA is insisting on access to the site at Parchin as a necessary first step in the newest phase of its investigation. Iran, however, contends that only “conventional military” activities have taken place there and says that other issues must be settled before access to Parchin will be granted.
  • In 2005 IAEA inspectors did visit other parts of Parchin but did not find anything suspicious. They feel they now have better information.
  • The IAEA feels it is urgent to re-visit Parchin soon since satellite images show activity at the site they want to see. While IAEA officials will not elaborate on this, the activity is suspected to be Iranian attempts to sanitize the site. Iran denies it is trying to remove traces of nuclear particles and says this is impossible to do anyway.

Information for this fact sheet came from Wilson Center Senior Scholar Michael Adler’s article, “Iran’s Parchin Test Site: What UN Nuke Inspectors Think They’ll Find,” in AOL Defense. Michael can be contacted by e-mail at adlemichael@gmail.com or at (202) 691-4340.