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By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Foreign Service
February 16, 2011
VIENNA - In an underground chamber near the Iranian city of Natanz, a
network of surveillance cameras offers the outside world a rare glimpse
into Iran's largest nuclear facility. The cameras were installed by U.N.
inspectors to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear progress, but last year they
recorded something unexpected: workers hauling away crate after crate of
In a six-month period between late 2009 and last spring, U.N. officials
watched in amazement as Iran dismantled more than 10 percent of the
Natanz plant's 9,000 centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium. Then,
just as remarkably, hundreds of new machines arrived at the plant to
replace the ones that were lost.
The story told by the video footage is a shorthand recounting of the
most significant cyberattack to date on a nuclear installation. Records
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear
watchdog, show Iran struggling to cope with a major equipment failure
just at the time its main uranium enrichment plant was under attack by a
computer worm known as Stuxnet, according to Europe-based diplomats
familiar with the records.
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.
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