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Iran says it has begun upgrading uranium centrifuges

14 February, 2013

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday it had started installing a new generation of machines for enriching uranium, an announcement likely to annoy the West and complicate efforts to resolve a decade-old dispute over its nuclear programme.

It came on the day the UN nuclear watchdog began talks in Tehran to try to advance a long-stalled investigation into suspected military dimensions of the programme. Iran had already told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it planned to introduce new IR2-m centrifuges to its main enrichment plant near the central town of Natanz - a step that could significantly speed up its accumulation of material that the West fears could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

"From last month the installation of the new generation of these machines started," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). "We have produced the machines as planned and we are carrying out the installation gradually ... to complete the tests."

Enriched uranium can fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or, if refined to a high degree, provide material for bombs, which the West suspects is Tehran's real purpose, something Iran strenuously denies. If deployed successfully, new-generation centrifuges could refine uranium several times faster than the model Iran now has.

It was not clear how many of the new centrifuges Iran aimed to install at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands; an IAEA note to members implied it could be up to 3,000 or so.

Abbasi-Davani said the new machines were specifically for lower-grade enrichment of uranium to below 5 percent purity. Iran has been enriching some uranium up to a concentration of 20 percent fissile material, only a short step from weapons grade, and it is this stockpile that has prompted Israel and the United States to warn that they will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran being able to build a bomb.

The major world powers have imposed sanctions to try to press Tehran to give up nuclear activities with a possible military dimension, while Iran wants them to recognise what it sees as its right to refine uranium for peaceful purposes.

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