One study found that Iran’s centrifuges are only operating at 20 percent efficiency. Only about half of the centrifuges at Natanz are working, and they are breaking faster than they are being replaced. In November 2009, only 3,900 were operating, down about 1,000 from May. The ones that did operate only produced about half of the uranium they should have. Part of the problem the Iranians face is that impurities supposed to be cleansed from the uranium before entering the centrifuges still remained, damaging the devices. This is extremely hurtful to the program, as Iran is running short on uranium and is being forced to find foreign suppliers and is working feverishly to increase production its mine near Bandar Abbas.
Operations to wreck the centrifuges have long been in motion. As far back as 1998, undercover CIA and Mossad operatives worked to sell Iran faulty chemical substances that would later disable them. Top nuclear expert David Albright says that U.S. labs tampered with vacuum pumps needed for the centrifuges that were then sold to Iran. They were rigged “to bug them or to make them break down under operational conditions. If you can break the vacuum in a centrifuge cascade, you can destroy hundreds of centrifuges or thousands if you are really lucky.” In 2006, Iran arrested one of its citizens for allegedly causing “irreversible damage” by providing booby-trapped nuclear equipment on behalf of the Mossad. He was hanged in 2008.
The Israelis are suspected of being involved in the assassination and disappearance of Iranian nuclear scientists as well. In January 2007, Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpour, a key scientist at the Isfahan uranium conversion site, “suffocated by fumes from a faulty gas fire while he slept,” claimed the Iranian regime. Other sources are confident his death was caused by the Israelis. The Mossad is suspected in the deaths of at least two other scientists. The CIA and other intelligence agencies have also been hard at work in getting important officials to defect, and there have been other suspicious accidents damaging nuclear labs and Revolutionary Guards aircraft carrying sensitive materials.
The Stuxnet attack and other covert operations are causing incalculable damage to the Iranians’ nuclear efforts, and the sophisticated nature of the virus means there may still be undetected damage. It is often asked if and when Iran’s nuclear sites will be attacked. Now we know the answer: They already have been.
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