Iran’s nuclear potential may have been significantly increased by the Stuxnet worm that is believed to have infected the country’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2009 and 2010, new research claims.
The report, published in the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) journal, claims the Stuxnet worm exposed vulnerabilities in Iranian enrichment facilities that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, and that production actually went up in the year after it was allegedly discovered.
Furthermore, the impression in the West that Natanz was under attack left the Iranians to “progress quietly” with enriching more uranium, hindering diplomatic solutions to reducing the threat of a nuclear Iran.
In an analysis of data collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ivanka Barzashka, an academic at King’s College, London, argues that Iran has regrouped and improved centrifuge performance and has started enriching uranium to higher concentrations than before.
Furthermore, since August 2010 the number of operating machines has been “steadily growing” at Natanz.
The Stuxnet worm, which allegedly attacked the Natanz plant by altering the frequency at which motors connected to gas centrifuges that separate uranium isotopes turn, formed part of a wave of digital attacks on the country in 2009 and 2010.
Iran decommissioned and replaced about 1,000 IR-1 centrifuges in the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz, late in 2009 or early in 2010.
Barzashka writes that Iran’s ability to successfully operate new machines “was not hindered” and that “Stuxnet’s effects have not simply ‘worn off’.”
“Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity increased and, consequently, so did its nuclear-weapons potential,” she says.
“Stuxnet was of net benefit to Iran if, indeed, its government wants to build a bomb or increase its nuclear-weapons potential.
“The malware – if it did in fact infiltrate Natanz – has made the Iranians more cautious about protecting their nuclear facilities,” she adds.
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind criticised the report, emphasising that bilateral talks between the US and Iran were the only way to curb Iranian nuclear ambition.
Sir Malcolm, who currently serves as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees Britain’s cybersecurity strategy, toldThe Daily Telegraph: “What is undoubted is that it [Stuxnet] significantly slowed down the enrichment process.
“Part of the objective of many people in the international community has been to stop, or if you can’t stop, to slow down the Iranian nuclear programme.
“In so far as Stuxnet may have done that, and I emphasise may have done that, it was a plus.
“The most important diplomatic initiative on the table is the offer by the President of the United States for a direct bilateral discussion between the United States and Iran.”
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