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Iran building nuke site beyond bunker busters’ reach

Tunnels are being dug near the Natanz nuclear facility.

Centrifuges at the Iran nuclear energy exhibition in the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum in Tehran, 2018. Credit: Maps/Shutterstock.
Centrifuges at the Iran nuclear energy exhibition in the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum in Tehran, 2018. Credit: Maps/Shutterstock.

A nuclear facility Iran is constructing near the Zagros Mountains is so deep it is likely beyond the range of a U.S. weapon designed to destroy such sites.

Satellite imagery shows Iranian workers digging tunnels near the Natanz nuclear site in central Iran, about 140 miles south of Tehran.

Such a facility presents a “nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” said Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, AP reported.

“Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping U.S. and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict,” she added.

Four entrances have been dug into the mountainside, images analyzed by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reveal. Each is 20 feet wide and 26 feet tall.

Based on the size of dirt mounds and other satellite data, experts at the center told AP that Iran is likely building a facility at a depth of between 260 feet and 328 feet.

“So the depth of the facility is a concern.… It would be much harder to destroy using conventional weapons such as a typical bunker buster bomb,” said Steven De La Fuente, a research associate at the center who led the analysis.

The new Natanz facility will likely go deeper than Iran’s Fordo plant, a uranium enrichment site exposed in 2009.

Such facilities led the U.S. to create the 30,000-pound, precision-guided GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), or “bunker buster” bomb, which can cut through at least 200 feet of earth before detonating, says the U.S. military.

U.S. officials reportedly have talked about using two such bombs, one after the other in quick succession. It is not clear whether even that would be enough to damage the new Natanz facility.

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