Iran Nuclear NewsIran to sharply expand uranium enrichment

Iran to sharply expand uranium enrichment

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ImageReuters: Iran announced plans on Sunday to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants in a major expansion of its nuclear program, a clear show of defiance after the U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuked Tehran over secret such work. By Parisa Hafezi and Reza Derakhshi

ImageTEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran announced plans on Sunday to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants in a major expansion of its nuclear program, a clear show of defiance after the U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuked Tehran over secret such work.

The decision by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government will further aggravate tensions between the Islamic Republic and major powers seeking a diplomatic solution to a long-running dispute over Iranian nuclear activities.

It may speed up discussions in the West about possible new sanctions on Iran over its repeated refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which the United States and its allies suspect is part of a covert bid to develop nuclear bombs. Iran denies this.

The new enrichment facilities would be the same size as Iran's main enrichment complex at Natanz and work would begin within two months, state broadcaster IRIB said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) angered Iran on Friday when it censured the Islamic Republic for secretly building a second uranium enrichment plant, in addition to the one in Natanz.

"This is the reaction to the resolution which was bound to happen," a senior diplomat close to the IAEA said, adding that it was unclear how much of it was bluff or a real plan.

Ahmadinejad said Iran should aim to produce 250-300 tons of nuclear fuel a year and that new, faster centrifuges should be used to reach that target. He did not give a time frame.

"We have a friendly approach toward the world but at the same time we won't let anyone harm even one iota of the Iranian nation's rights," he said.

"We have to reach to a level to produce 250-300 tons of nuclear fuel per year and in order to reach this aim we would use new centrifuges with a higher speed," the president said.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency: "Ten new enrichment plants will be built."

IRIB said the location of five the plants had already been decided and that work on these should start within two months. At the same time, the Atomic Energy Organization should find suitable location for other five.

It did not say when the plants would be completed.

Ahmadinejad also said the government last week studied the issue of producing nuclear fuel enriched to 20 percent, IRIB reported, compared with the level of 3.5 percent it has now.

Estimates vary, but proliferation experts say 1,000-1,700 kg of low-enriched uranium, if converted into high-enriched uranium, would be enough to make a bomb.

"HASTY Behavior"

Western powers suspect the Islamic Republic is seeking to develop nuclear bombs, and backed a U.N.-drafted nuclear fuel deal that was designed to allay international concern about Iran's atomic activities.

Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, says its atomic program aims to generate electricity.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants and, if refined much further, provide material for bombs.

Earlier, Iranian lawmakers urged the government to prepare a plan to reduce cooperation with the IAEA over its rebuke.

"Because of world powers' hasty behavior, the government should submit its plan over reducing Iran's cooperation level with the agency," MPs said in a statement.

Parliament can oblige the government to change the level of cooperation with the IAEA, as it did in 2006 after the agency in Vienna voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

Friday's resolution by the 35-nation IAEA board — which won rare backing from China and Russia — was a sign of spreading alarm over Tehran's failure to dispel suspicions it has covert plans to build nuclear bombs, a charge Iran denies.

It urged Iran to clarify the original purpose of the recently disclosed Fordow enrichment site, stop construction and confirm there are no more hidden sites.

The vote reflected exasperation with Iran's retreat from an IAEA-brokered draft deal to provide it with fuel for a medical nuclear reactor if it agreed to part with its enriched uranium, which could be turned into bomb material if further refined.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said major powers would pursue harsher sanctions against Iran if it ignored the vote.

But it was unclear whether the West could now coax Moscow and Beijing to join in tougher sanctions against Iran, something they have long prevented at the U.N. Security Council, which has imposed three rounds of mild punitive measures since 2006.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Ramin Mostafavi; Editing by Jon Boyle )

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