WASHINGTON (AFP) – Leading Iranian opposition members claimed Thursday to have uncovered a secret nuclear enrichment site buried in the mountains northwest of Tehran and run by Iran’s defense ministry.
Information obtained by the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) has revealed Iran began building the site in Abyek, about 70 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Tehran, in 2005, the opposition members said.
“This is controlled, run and operated… by the ministry of defense,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, former media spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), told a press conference in Washington.
The PMOI, the main group in the NCRI, is officially listed as a foreign terrorist organization in the United States, although a judge ruled in July that it should be removed from the blacklist.
Jafarzadeh said the information about the Behjatabad-Abyek site was shared this week with the US government, Congress and the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There was no immediate comment from these bodies.
Soona Samsami, who was US representative for the NCRI, said the Iranian authorities have so far spent 100 million dollars on the project and completed about 85 percent of the construction.
The pair presented satellite pictures of excavation work at the alleged nuclear site, which they said supports information gleaned from sources “inside the Iranian regime” and showed what they said were four entrances and a tunnel.
The mountain peak sitting atop the tunnel stands at 100 meters (330 feet), higher than the 80 meters (260 feet) nuclear experts say is required to prevent detection via radioactive emissions, Jafarzadeh said.
The mountain also reinforces the facility against any aerial bombardment, he added.
The tunnel, which is eight meters (26 feet) wide and 200 meters (650 feet) long leads deep inside the ground to three large halls designed to house centrifuge cascades used in the enrichment of uranium, he said.
The opposition members said the construction work began at a time when the Islamic Republic insisted it had halted its controversial nuclear activities.
The United States and other Western powers suspect Iran is using its nuclear enrichment program to build a bomb. Iran denies the charge, saying its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.