An Iranian opposition group has disclosed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment site in Iran that has been operating since 2008. The revelation comes as the U.S. and Iran come close to an "historic compromise" on its nuclear program ahead of a March 31 deadline for a deal.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a controversial opposition group, is known for its expansive intelligence network inside Iran that regularly delivers detailed information about the regime’s secret activities.
In 2002, NCRI exposed that Iran had a secret uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and was building a heavy water reactor at Arak suitable for making plutonium-based nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime was forced to admit their existence and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has inspected the sites.
The specifics contained in the NCRI’s report give it credibility because they make the report easy to either verify or debunk. The report pinpoints the hidden nuclear site with satellite photography, explains its internal structuring and shows the entrances as well as the location of an elevator to access a 200-meter underground tunnel. There’s even an up-close photograph of one of the shielded doors used at the site to conceal radiation.
The secret site is called Lavizan-3 and is operated by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. It is within a military compound so that the regime can declare it off-limits to IAEA inspectors. Construction of the site began in early 2004 and is believed to have finished in 2008 or around that time.
According to the group’s sources inside Iran, the site is used for enriching uranium and building, testing and installing advanced centrifuges that enable Iran to produce the uranium for a nuclear bomb more quickly. The centrifuges at this location are of the IR2, IR3 and IR4 types. These centrifuges can potentially cut the time needed to make bomb-grade uranium from low-enriched uranium in half, from 18-24 months to 9-12 months.
NCRI also listed the names of key personnel involved in the hidden site. One of them is Morteza Behzad, an engineer involved with the Fordo uranium enrichment site that is buried 300 feet underground and was exposed in 2009. The Treasury Department sanctioned him in 2012.
The Lavizan-3 site can only hold 3,000 centrifuges, making it unsuitable for an a civilian energy program but entirely suitable for nuclear weapons creation.
Four top nuclear experts said earlier this month that they now consider Iran to be a nuclear-ready state, warning that Iran poses an Electro-Magnetic Pulse threat to the U.S. and its satellite launches show that it has intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S.
The IAEA confirms that Iran is still not being transparent about its nuclear activity. The agency’s September 5 report stated that Iran is still denying inspectors access to the Parchin site where the regime is believed to conducted research inarguably related to nuclear weapons. The regime also continued to deny that it has worked on nuclear warheads and has not adequately addressed the IAEA’s evidence.
The International Committee in Search of Justice, an organization the Iranian opposition, also released an extensively detailed report on November 20. It outlined 10 nuke-related activities by the Iranian regime that it has not admitted to or clarified.
It is important to note that the Iranian regime has a history of hiding its nuclear facilities and only disclosing them once they are caught.
The U.S. believes its intelligence service and those of its partners can validate Iranian compliance with a potential nuclear deal, but the West does not have a good record of detecting activities concerning weapons of mass destruction. Top non-proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick says, “[Uranium enrichment] can be carried out using centrifuge cascades in relatively small buildings that give off no heat and are hard to detect.”
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, a top nuclear expert, told the Clarion Project that “it is not easy to detect a clandestine program,” and it is “virtually impossible to detect the development of a gun or implosion detonation system.” A U.S. intelligence official commented to the Daily Beast that you could hide a uranium enrichment site inside a warehouse, and it would not give off the detectable “signatures” that would reveal its existence.
The IAEA even said, “The agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran and, therefore, to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The disclosure of a hidden site is to be expected. After all, Iran’s “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani previously boasted of expanding the country’s nuclear program through deception. Its major nuclear sites are only known because they were discovered — not because of any interest by the regime in transparency.
The U.S. government has yet to officially comment on this breaking news about the Lavizan-3 site. The wrong approach would be to dismiss the report if the CIA lacks verification. However, the “absence” of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Any realistic nuclear deal with Iran would require unfettered access to all suspected nuclear sites by IAEA inspectors. The U.S. should insist on this now. If the Iranian regime is seriously interested in a deal, then it will open the doors to Lavizan-3 and prove its sincerity.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.