Iran's Natanz nuclear plant may have recovered relatively quickly from the damage inflicted upon it by the Stuxnet virus, the Washington Post says.
Based on surveillance video from the Natanz plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency knows that Iran had to replace about 10% of Natanz's 9,000 centrifuges in late 2009 and the first months of 2010, due to damage believed to have been caused by Stuxnet. "But the IAEA's files also show a feverish - and apparently successful - effort by Iranian scientists to contain the damage and replace broken parts, even while constrained by international sanctions banning Iran from purchasing nuclear equipment. An IAEA report due for release this month is expected to show steady or even slightly elevated production rates at the Natanz enrichment plant over the past year," the newspaper said.
"They have been able to quickly replace broken machines," a Western diplomat with access to confidential IAEA reports told the Post. Despite the setbacks caused by the cyberattack, "the Iranians appeared to be working hard to maintain a constant, stable output" of low-enriched uranium, said the official.
A draft report by Washington-based nuclear experts from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) says that the net impact of the Stuxnet attack was relatively minor. "While it has delayed the Iranian centrifuge program at the Natanz plant in 2010 and contributed to slowing its expansion, it did not stop it or even delay the continued buildup of low-enriched uranium," the draft report says.
The United States and Israel, the countries believed by most analysts to be behind the Stuxnet attack, have not denied or confirmed their involvement. A violent military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel could set off a wide-scale regional war, and the US under Barack Obama is loath to carry out such an attack itself. Setting back the Iranian nuclear program for a few years could have major strategic importance if, in the intervening period, a new president is elected in the US, or if a revolution overthrows the current regime in Iran and replaces it with one the West sees as less dangerous.