Iran Nuclear News Iran says it’s installing new centrifuges

Iran says it’s installing new centrifuges

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New York Times: Iran announced on Tuesday a significant expansion of its plans to enrich uranium despite the United Nations Security Council’s demand that it halt the program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Iran’s main enrichment complex at Natanz that the country had started installing 6,000 centrifuges at the site, in addition to the existing 3,000 centrifuges. The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI and WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: April 9, 2008

TEHRAN — Iran announced on Tuesday a significant expansion of its plans to enrich uranium despite the United Nations Security Council’s demand that it halt the program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Iran’s main enrichment complex at Natanz that the country had started installing 6,000 centrifuges at the site, in addition to the existing 3,000 centrifuges.

Western experts cautioned that Iran’s technical claims often exceeded its grasp, and in the past they have greeted such pronouncements by Iran with skepticism. While they have confirmed that Iran has 3,000 operating centrifuges, there was no confirmation of the latest claims.

If Iran carries out its plans, it will triple the size of its industrial base and produce a major expansion in its uranium enrichment program. Enrichment can make fuel for civilian nuclear reactors or, if taken to higher levels, nuclear warheads.

The United States and other Western countries have accused Iran of having a clandestine nuclear arms program, but Iran says its program is peaceful and for civilian purposes only.

Mr. Ahmadinejad made the announcement on the anniversary of Iran’s first production of enriched uranium, in 2006, when it boasted of joining the world’s “nuclear club.”

The United States immediately criticized the plan. “Today’s announcement reflects the Iranian leadership’s continuing violation of international obligations and refusal to address international concerns,” said Gregory L. Schulte, the United States representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, called Iran’s uranium enrichment effort “dangerous.” He said further sanctions might be necessary.

David Albright, a former arms inspector and the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which tracks nuclear proliferation, said that based on information from international inspectors, the 3,000 existing centrifuges appeared to be running poorly and that Iran’s expansion might be more about political posturing than technical advance.

“They really haven’t run much uranium through them successfully,” he said in an interview.

But Mr. Albright added that if Iran could master the difficult task of getting 9,000 centrifuges to run smoothly without breaking down periodically, that would, theoretically, expand its ability to make bomb fuel for one to three or so nuclear weapons a year.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony in Tehran on Tuesday that the technological achievements of the program were more significant than the new centrifuges. “These technological achievements will soon transform the country’s industry,” he said.

Women sang at the ceremony, and young men wearing blue shawls and white banners danced, despite religious restrictions that ban dancing and bar women from singing. Mr. Ahmadinejad was shown on state television shedding tears when the announcer referred to the ”martyrs” of the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

The president had said he would make another announcement at the ceremony later Tuesday evening about Iran’s nuclear achievements. But he referred only to “new machines” that were installed and were much smaller but “five times more efficient than the current machines.”

It was widely believed that he would announce progress in installing a new generation of centrifuges known as IR-2 centrifuges. The modified IR-2 model is a more advanced and reliable machine than the P-1 model that Iran had been using, and it can enrich uranium more quickly

Iranian authorities said in February that they had started using IR-2 centrifuges experimentally. Western analysts cautioned, however, that the planned expansion of 6,000 new centrifuges in the underground industrial plant at Natanz would probably involve the older P-1 model and that any IR-2 expansions would probably be limited to experimental work.

Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to halt the enrichment program. Members of the Security Council — Britain, France, the United States, China and Russia — as well as Germany are expected to meet in Shanghai on April 16 to discuss ways to resume talks with Iran over the nuclear program, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Jiang Yu, said Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

However, Iran has shown no signs of compromise over its nuclear program since Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005.

He brushed off any compromise on Tuesday and said Iran had refused “to play according to the plans of big powers.”

“I am sure that they will fail in the same way that they have failed in the past 30 years,” he said, referring to Western countries’ opposition to Iran’s enrichment program.

In a related matter, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported Tuesday that a court had given a suspended two-year prison sentence to a former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, who was part of the negotiating team that suspended enrichment under the former president, Mohammad Khatami. The news agency’s Web site said Mr. Mousavian had been charged with interfering in national security.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and William J. Broad from New York.

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