Iran is building a new underground nuclear facility in defiance of Western sanctions, as talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers remain stalled. According to Associated Press, the facility is being built so deep in the earth that it is likely to be beyond the range of the latest US "bunker buster" weapon designed to destroy such sites.
AP cited experts and satellite imagery in its analysis. Photos and videos from Planet Labs PBC show that Iran has been digging tunnels in the mountain near the Natanz nuclear site, which has faced repeated sabotage amid Tehran's standoff with the West over its atomic programme.
"With Iran now producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, the installation complicates the West's efforts to halt Tehran from potentially developing an atomic bomb as diplomacy over its nuclear program remains stalled," said AP.
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Completion of the facility "would constitute a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral," warned Kelsey Davenport, the director of non-proliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association. "Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its programme without tripping US and Israeli red lines. So, at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict."
The construction at Natanz comes five years after former US President Donald Trump withdrew America unilaterally from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.