New buildings spotted at Iran's Parchin military site

Facility was once used for nuclear activities and it has been heavily refurbished

Iran's nuclear capabilities are of great interest to world powers, watchdog agencies and analysts. IRIB via AP 
Iran's nuclear capabilities are of great interest to world powers, watchdog agencies and analysts. IRIB via AP 

Satellite images show that four new buildings have gone up at Iran’s Parchin military complex, where explosives experiments related to nuclear weapons were conducted in the early 2000s.

The structures are surrounded by steep walls made of compacted earth to deflect explosions, intelligence consultancy group The Intel Lab said.

Military grade explosives are manufactured and tested at Parchin, which is about 30 kilometres south-east of Tehran, but analysts linked the site to other activities.

The Parchin Military Complex pictured on March 4, 2021. Imagery courtesy Maxar Technologies via Google Earth, Infographics courtesy of The Intel Lab
The Parchin Military Complex pictured on March 4, 2021. Imagery courtesy Maxar Technologies via Google Earth, Infographics courtesy of The Intel Lab

“Parchin complex is involved in research and development, the production of chemical weapons, laser technology for uranium enrichment, as well as high-explosive testing for nuclear weapons,” The Intel Lab said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last visited Parchin in 2015 as part of its investigation into Iran's nuclear activities under the terms of a deal with world powers that was intended to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, but the Biden administration is seeking a return to it under new conditions.

In 2015, Iran told the inspectors that Parchin was used to store chemicals, a claim disproven by IAEA analysis of samples from the site.

The IAEA was unable to find hard evidence of nuclear activity, although two weak traces of man-made uranium were found.

It concluded that there were “no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009” and no “credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme”.

Recent satellite imagery showed major refurbishments at the complex, leading some experts to suggest that Iran has tried to cover up evidence of nuclear activity.

In June, plumes of orange smoke were seen after an explosion at Iran’s Khojir missile production plant, near Parchin, caused a blackout.

Iranian officials released images of a gas tank with a hole in it as evidence that a leak caused the explosion.

But satellite imagery showed extensive damage to the site, making a gas leak an unlikely explanation, and analysts are yet to reach a consensus on the cause of the explosion.

Iran on Friday announced that it had successfully increased uranium enrichment at its Natanz site to 60 per cent, at odds with its commitments under the JCPOA - which Iran said became a void deal after the US withdrawal in 2018.

Iran's compliance with the deal is a prerequisite for the US returning to it and lifting Trump-era sanctions that damage Iran's economy, US President Joe Biden said.

Iran said it would easily reverse nuclear enrichment escalations.

Updated: April 18, 2021 04:36 PM

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