The United Nations’ inspection of Iran’s clandestine nuclear facility outside Qum, slated as of press time for Oct. 25, was already treated as something of a coup in the West. With its air-defense batteries and centrifuges buried deep in the mountainside, the site smacked of dangerous nuclear intentions. But assuming the visit takes place, the progress it represents needs to be kept in perspective. By cooperating with the U.N., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime gets to look as if it’s opening a window on its nuclear program, slowing the momentum toward tougher international sanctions, when it’s likely that Qum is only one of many secrets Iran is concealing.
U.S. arms-control experts say that Qum is probably one of at least a half-dozen undeclared sites in Iran’s “nuclear archipelago.” At its present rate of production, Qum’s estimated 3,000 antiquated IR-1 centrifuges would take two years to churn out enough highly enriched uranium for a single bomb, according to Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. If Iran had another secret site, its parallel fuel cycle would cut down the waiting time to a year.