Saturday, April 05, 2008

Iran installs advanced nuclear centrifuges

1938 Alert. "Iran installs advanced centrifuges in main atom plant," from Reuters:

Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges in its main uranium enrichment plant, accelerating activity that could give it the means to make atom bombs in future if it chooses, diplomats said on Thursday. Iran says it is wants to produce nuclear fuel only for electricity so it can export more oil; but has been hit with three sets of United Nations sanctions for hiding the work until 2003, failing to prove to inspectors since then that it is wholly peaceful, and refusing to suspend the disputed program.

Iran launched 3,000 centrifuges, a basis for industrial scale enrichment, in the underground Natanz production hall last year, but they are a 1970s-vintage design prone to breakdown so Iran began testing an advanced version in Natanz's pilot wing.

After an installation pause of several months in the main enrichment plant, Iran has now introduced more than 300 more centrifuges; some of them improved versions and some the earlier model, Western diplomats with access to intelligence said.

"The ratio of (new to old) centrifuges in the new batch is not yet clear," One of them told Reuters, but he said Iran's intent appeared to be to produce "to the maximum" with the advanced machine by gradually phasing out its predecessor.

An "IR-2" Centrifuge Iran has been developing could enrich uranium 2-3 times faster than its start-up counterpart.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA told Reuters he was unaware of new progress in the Natanz enrichment bunker, which is ringed by anti-aircraft guns against a feared US bombing.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which has inspectors at Natanz, declined comment.

A senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's Iran mission did not dispute the disclosures but said it remained unclear if Iran could get the upgraded brand of centrifuge to work productively.

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