Samples collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at two Iranian sites where Tehran has not reported any nuclear activity showed traces of radioactivity. Although the IAEA refrained from naming the sites in its quarterly report of June 5, 2020, they were identified last year by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington. The identification was based on information extracted from the Iranian nuclear archive smuggled out of Tehran and into Israel in January 2018.
The first site visited by IAEA inspectors in August 2020 was a pilot plant for uranium conversion, with an emphasis on the production of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride, a uranium compound which, in its gaseous phase, enables the enrichment of uranium by centrifuges). This site, located about 47 miles southeast of Tehran, operated under the aegis of the Amad military nuclear program. In documents from the Iranian nuclear archive, this location is referred to as the “Tehran Site.” The facility was dismantled in 2004.
The other site was Marivan, located near the town of Abadeh in central Iran. This facility, also part of the Amad program, was designed to conduct “cold tests” of nuclear weapons (that is, to simulate the activation of a nuclear explosive device using natural uranium rather than weapons-grade uranium). This included operating a multipoint explosive system for the activation of a nuclear weapon, as well as the development of its neutron initiator.
According to satellite imagery published by ISIS, Iran razed part of the Marivan facility in July 2019, more than a year before they allowed IAEA inspectors access to it. It is likely that this was done to prevent exposure to nuclear activities that had taken place there in the past. This was not the first time the Islamic regime had razed nuclear sites: it did so at the Lavizan-Shian facility in Tehran in 2004 and the Parchin facility in 2012.
It is possible that the traces of radioactive materials found in samples taken by IAEA inspectors in August 2020 indicate renewed efforts to develop a neutron initiator for nuclear weapons previously conducted at the Marivan site.