In a six-month period between late 2009 and last spring, UN officials watched in amazement as Iran dismantled more than 10% of the Natanz plant’s 9,000 centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium. Then, just as remarkably, hundreds of new machines arrived at the plant to replace the lost ones.
The story told by the video footage is a shorthand recounting of the most significant cyberattack to date on a nuclear installation. Records of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) show Iran struggling to cope with a major equipment failure just at the time its main uranium enrichment plant was under attack by a computer worm known as Stuxnet, according to Europe-based diplomats.
But the IAEA’s files also show a feverish — and apparently successful — effort by Iranian scientists to contain the damage and replace broken parts, even while constrained by international sanctions banning Iran from purchasing nuclear equipment. An IAEA report due for release this month is expected to show steady or even slightly elevated production rates at the Natanz enrichment plant over the past year.
“While it has delayed the Iranian centrifuge program at the Natanz plant in 2010 and contributed to slowing its expansion, it did not stop it or even delay the continued buildup of low-enriched uranium,” the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said in a draft report.
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