U.S. Raises Monitoring of Iranian Reactor
Wall Street Journal / SOLOMON & BARNES

The U.S. has significantly stepped up spying operations on Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor over the past two months, American officials said, driven by heightened concerns about the security of weapons-grade plutonium after Tehran unexpectedly discharged fuel rods from the facility in October.

The increased U.S. surveillance of Bushehr, on Iran's southwestern coast, has been conducted in part with the Pentagon's fleet of drones operating over the Persian Gulf. The effort resulted in the interception of visual images and audio communications coming from the reactor complex, these officials said.

So the International Atomic Energy Agency was surprised on Oct. 15 when Iran notified the U.N. watchdog that it was discharging all of the nuclear fuel from Bushehr and storing it in a cooling pond at the site, according to Vienna-based diplomats briefed on the correspondence.

Independent nuclear experts estimate that this discharged fuel was made up of between 22 and 220 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to produce as many as 24 nuclear bombs, if reprocessed further.

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