Iran looks to install 6,000 new centrifuges

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced plans to install 6,000 new centrifuges at its main nuclear facility in Natanz, developing on the uranium enrichment technology in defiance of the UN Security Council. Farhad Pouladi reports.


Iran on Tuesday announced it was embarking on the installation of thousands of new centrifuges to enrich uranium at its main nuclear plant in defiance of UN Security Council calls to freeze the sensitive process.

"Today, the phase for installing 6,000 new centrifuges at the facility in Natanz has started," the website of state broadcasting quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying at the atomic plant.

His announcement came as Iran marked its "national day of nuclear technology", which commemorates the April 2006 anniversary of its first production of uranium sufficiently enriched to make atomic fuel.

According to the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog, Iran has already installed around 3,000 P1 centrifuges at an underground enrichment facility at the plant in Natanz, central Iran.

If Iran succeeded in installing 6,000 centrifuges, it would mark a major expansion of its nuclear programme.

The West fears Iran could use uranium enrichment to make a nuclear weapon, and Tehran's refusal to suspend the process has been punished with three sets of UN Security Council sanctions and US pressure on its banking system.

Ahmadinejad also inspected a "new generation" of centrifuges which Iranian engineers are building at an over-ground research facility at the plant, the official IRNA news agency reported.

These are Iran’s version of the more efficient P2 centrifuges -- the IR-2 -- which can enrich uranium considerably faster than the standard P1 models. The reports did not say how many of these centrifuges Iran has built.

Ahmadinejad said he would be announcing more "good news" at a major ceremony at 1600 GMT at the headquarters of Iranian state broadcasting in Tehran alongside the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation Gholam Reza Aghazadeh.

"We have reached new achievements and in the ceremony I shall talk about this," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of making concessions over calls for it to freeze enrichment, leading to deadlock in the standoff with the international community.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and solely aimed at generating energy for a growing population whose supply of fossil fuels will eventually run out.

The United States has never ruled out military action to bring Tehran to heel and Iran’s arch enemy Israel has expressed alarm about the nuclear drive, especially after Ahmadinejad’s predictions that the Jewish state is doomed to disappear.

Underlining the tensions, an Israeli government minister warned on Monday that Israel would respond to any Iranian attack by destroying the "Iranian nation,"  Israeli public radio reported.

"An Iranian attack against Israel would trigger a tough reaction that would lead to the destruction of the Iranian nation," National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said.

But Iran is also believed to have experienced difficulties in utilising its existing centrifuges to full capacity.

In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared that "the throughput of the (enrichment) facility has been well below its declared design capacity."

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said it was "natural in this kind of industry that there are ups and downs once in a while."

Russia is providing the fuel for Iran's first nuclear power station with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts which it is building in the southern city of Bushehr. After a series of delays, the station is due to come online later this year.

But Iran has said it wants to produce its own nuclear fuel for almost 20 new nuclear power stations it is planning to build over the next few years to supply a total of 20,000 megawatts of electricity.

Also Tuesday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that Iran had handed former nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian a two-year suspended jail sentence for "harming national security".

Moussavian was a leading nuclear negotiator in the moderate team that held talks with EU countries during the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami until 2005.

He was briefly detained and then released on bail in 2007 on accusations of handing secrets about Iran’s controversial nuclear programme to the British embassy in Tehran.

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