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. Satellite pics indicate tunneling near Iran nuke site: think tank
WASHINGTON, July 9 (AFP) Jul 09, 2007
Commercial satellite imagery indicates Iran is tunneling into a mountain near its Natanz uranium enrichment complex, possibly to protect nuclear equipment against air attack, a US think tank reported Monday.

The images were taken June 11 by Digital Globe and published on the website of the Institutue for Science and International Security, a non profit research group based in Washington.

They show recent road construction leading up a mountain from a paved road just 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) south of the southern fence of the complex that houses the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Analysts David Albright and Paul Brannan noted in a report that tunnel entrances were not readily visible in the images but "one of the roads appears to lead into a tunnel facility. The other road may also lead to a tunnel entrance."

They said Iran previously had build a tunnel complex near its uranium conversion facility at Esfahan to protect nuclear-related equipment and materials and natural uranium hexaflouride.

"Iran may be constructing a similar facility near Natanz, fearing that the underground halls at Natanz are vulnerable to destruction by military attack," they said.

"Such a tunnel facility inside a mountain would offer excellent protection from an aerial attack," they added.

They said it would be ideal for storing nuclear items, including equipment to manufacture and assemble centrifuges and centrifuge components as well as natural uranium and low-enriched uranium.

It is possible but unlikely that the site could be designed to hold a significant number of operational centrifuge cascades, they said.

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