updated 2/24/2004 10:51:53 AM ET 2004-02-24T15:51:53

U.N. nuclear agency inspectors uncovered evidence of previously undisclosed nuclear experiments in Iran, according to a copy of an agency report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors combing Iran for evidence of a nuclear weapons program found traces of polonium, a radioactive element that can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction, the internal report said.

It said that Tehran never mentioned working with polonium in past declarations of its nuclear activities.

The report to the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors said the agency found traces of polonium last September. It said the element “could be used for military purposes ... specifically as a neutron initiator in some designs of nuclear weapons.”

Polonium also can be used to generate electricity.

'Not the smoking gun'
The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Saber Zaimian, declined to comment on the IAEA report, saying his organization was studying it.

Diplomats familiar with the IAEA’s efforts to lay bare Iran’s shadowy nuclear program characterized the discovery as more potential evidence of Tehran’s alleged weapons ambitions.

“It’s not the smoking gun, but it’s one of the links,” one diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Iran's tortured pathThe revelation was likely to hurt Iran’s efforts to persuade the world that its nuclear program is peaceful and geared only to generating electricity.

Under international pressure last year, Iran pledged to cooperate fully with the IAEA in efforts to prove it was not interested in nuclear weapons, including opening its activities to full outside scrutiny.

Iran suspended its enrichment program last year but continues to make centrifuges for enriching uranium despite international criticism that such actions violate the spirit of its pledge to stop all enrichment activities.

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington was concerned that Iran continues to withhold information despite the IAEA’s insistence that it come clean.

“They have divulged some parts of that program, but they still have a long way to go,” Boucher said in Washington. “And it’s not clear to us at this point that Iran has made a strategic decision to abandon its efforts at nuclear weapons production.”

The IAEA board convenes next month to reassess the country’s nuclear threat.

Bigger concern
The report said the IAEA is more concerned with the discovery earlier this month of an advanced centrifuge system that can enrich uranium for weapons use. The White House has said the finding raised “serious concerns” about Iran’s intentions.

Although Iran has not explicitly acknowledged possessing the so-called P-2 centrifuge, its Foreign Ministry has said if such equipment were in the country, it would be at a research stage and not in use. Iran has acknowledged having thousands of less-advanced P-1 centrifuges.

Confronted by evidence last year, Iran acknowledged hiding nearly two decades of nuclear activity, including importing enrichment technology linked to the black market network of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Those imports of equipment and expertise have allowed Tehran to create a domestic production line of centrifuges that can be used both to process uranium for power and to enrich it to levels high enough to manufacture warheads.

The IAEA, along with the United States and other nations, wants Iran to scrap its enrichment program altogether. Tehran has refused.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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