Vienna: A mysterious halt in Iran`s
uranium enrichment activities earlier this month, as revealed
in a new report by the UN atomic watchdog, may have been due
to a cyber attack, experts suggested on Thursday.
But the enrichment programme is vulnerable to wider
technical problems -- particularly since it uses outdated
technology -- as well as international sanctions, the experts
A restricted report by the International Atomic Energy
Agency, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, says no
uranium-enriching centrifuges at Iran`s enrichment facility in
Natanz were being fed with nuclear material on at least one
day this month.
Centrifuges are finely calibrated cylindrical devices
that spin at supersonic speed to separate out an isotope of
uranium used to make nuclear fuel or, if refined to a much
higher degree, for the fissile material for an atomic bomb.
"On November 16, no cascades were being fed with UF6"
or uranium hexafluoride, the nine-page report revealed,
without offering any explanation as to a possible cause of the
Uranium hexafluoride, a toxic gas, is the particular
form of uranium used in the enrichment process.
Most of the machines at Natanz are used to produce
low-enriched uranium or LEU, which is used to make nuclear
A much smaller pilot plant where earlier this year
Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent purity --
ostensibly to produce radioisotopes for medical purposes --
was not affected.
The IAEA`s inspectors were not yet able to determine
exactly how long the halt lasted: a few hours on November 16,
an entire day or even longer.
The inspectors have not been back since, but Iranian
authorities informed them that on November 22 nuclear material
was being fed back into the centrifuges.
Iran quickly ruled out a possible cyber attack and
denied that the enrichment work was experiencing technical
But experts see as "feasible" the theory that the
stoppage was caused by a computer worm called Stuxnet that has
infiltrated Iran`s nuclear facilities recently.
Israel is suspected of designing Stuxnet to sabotage
its arch foe`s nuclear programme, which the West believes is
simply a cover to build an atomic bomb, though Iran denies it.
"It`s certainly feasible, because of the kind of
technical problems it can cause in the control systems for
centrifuges," said Mark Hibbs, senior associate at the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.