Iran Vows To Triple Uranium-Enrichment Capacity
International tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear program look set to rise further after that country's atomic energy chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, announced plans to drastically step up production of enriched uranium.
Abbasi also said output would be transferred from Natanz to a new secretly built facility at Fordow, near Qom, whose existence paved the way for a fresh round of United Nations sanctions against Iran when it was revealed in 2009.
The announcement came after Yukiya Amano, head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), wrote to the Iranian regime last week expressing concerns about the program. Many in the West fear it may be aimed at producing a nuclear weapon while Iran insists it is merely for energy purposes.
Abbasi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, told Iranian reporters that production of 20 percent-enriched uranium would be increased threefold by the end of 2011 and said the announcement of the move to Fordow was in response to the IAEA's correspondence.
"The response to the IAEA has been given by increased work in the research and technical sector of the nuclear [program]," Abbasi said, according to Reuters. "We are under the supervision and [work with] the knowledge of the agency. We will transfer enrichment to the Fordow site."
The move was immediately denounced as a "provocation" by France, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has led unsuccessful efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its enrichment activities.
"Iran must immediately end this constant violation of resolutions by the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA governors, rather than showing its contempt for international law," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The UN Security Council has already slapped four rounds of sanctions on Iran while separate embargoes have been imposed by the United States, the European Union, and Japan.
On June 6, Amano said he had received new evidence of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear work, comments President Mahmud Ahmadinejad dismissed as being dictated by Iran's foes in Washington.
Abbasi's announcement came shortly before the IAEA board, meeting in Vienna, was due to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
The move was a worrying development for the West as it took Iran's enrichment level closer to the 90 percent needed for making atomic bombs. A much lower level of enrichment is needed for electricity production.
In its latest report on Iran, in May, the IAEA said Tehran had informed it in February of plans to begin feeding nuclear material into enrichment cascades at Fordow "by this summer." But the agency added that as of May 21 no centrifuges had been introduced into the facility.
Abbasi said new more advanced centrifuges would be used at Fordow than the decades old P-1 type once acquired on the black market and in use at Iran's main enrichment facility in Natanz. "Soon we will install 164-machine centrifuge cascades of the new generation [at Fordow]," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Centrifuges are machines that are used to enrich uranium.
Iran only disclosed the existence of the Fordow site, inside a mountain bunker, in September 2009, after Western intelligence had detected it.
based on agency and RFE/RL reports
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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