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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Diplomats: Iran Assembling Centrifuges
Diplomats: Iran Assembling Centrifuges PDF Print E-mail
Written by GEORGE JAHN, AP   
Thursday, 03 April 2008

Iranian Centrifuge
Iranian Centrifuge

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Iran has assembled hundreds of advanced machines reflecting a possible intention to speed up uranium enrichment, diplomats have told The Associated Press.

One diplomat said more than 300 of the centrifuges have been linked up in two separate units in Iran's underground enrichment plant and a third was being assembled. He said the machines apparently are more advanced than the thousands already running underground, suggesting they could be the sophisticated IR-2 centrifuge that Tehran recently acknowledged testing.

But a senior diplomat said that while the new work appeared to include advanced centrifuges, they were not IR-2s. He added that it was unclear whether the machines were above or below ground.

The location is significant, since the aboveground site at Natanz is for experimental work and the underground facility is the working enrichment plant.

A third diplomat — who like the other two closely follows Iran's nuclear program — confirmed that Iran had started linking up advanced centrifuges in a configuration used for enrichment. But he said all remained above ground and none of the machines were running.

Uranium enrichment can produce both fuel for power plants and the fissile core of nuclear warheads. Tehran insists its nuclear program is intended only to produce energy, but there is growing international concern that it could lead to the development of weapons.

Two of the diplomats spoke to the AP earlier this week and the third Thursday. All are linked to the Vienna-based International Agency for Atomic Energy, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, but asked for anonymity because their information was confidential.

Their reports underlined Iran's determination to push ahead with its enrichment program despite U.N. Security Council sanctions. One of the diplomats said officials in Tehran would likely detail the new centrifuge work on April 8, which Iran has designated National Nuclear Technology Day.

Preliminary assembly is only a first step in the complex enrichment process; in comments to the AP earlier this year, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, acknowledged that his country's uranium enrichment program was experiencing "ups and downs." It appeared to be the first time Iran admitted its enrichment activities were facing difficulties.

It was unclear whether the linkups of the more advanced centrifuges would ever be used to churn out enriched uranium or whether they were only experimental configurations.

"Something new is definitely going on," said former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks countries under nuclear suspicion.

Albright said that with information contradictory on the type of centrifuge, it was difficult to speculate on the significance of the new work.

In comments to the AP earlier this week, the first diplomat said two linkups or "cascades" of 176 centrifuges each had recently been assembled and a third was in the process of being put together.

The workhorse of Iran's enrichment program is the P-1 centrifuge which is run in cascades of 164 machines. But Iranian officials confirmed in February that they had started using the IR-2 centrifuge that can churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate.

The February announcement was the first official confirmation by Tehran after officials at the IAEA reported that Iran was using 10 of the new IR-2 centrifuges to produce small amounts of enriched material.

Ten centrifuges are too few to produce enriched uranium in the quantities needed for an industrial-scale energy or weapons program and far below the 3,000 older P-1 centrifuges in Iran's underground enrichment plant in the central town of Natanz.

Although a U.S. intelligence summary late last year concluded that Tehran stopped working on direct nuclear weapons programs in 2003, enrichment is of concern because it can produce weapons grade uranium for the core of warheads.

The IAEA highlighted the "new-generation centrifuges" in its February report on Iran but did not provide details on their operation. AP

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EXCLUSIVE - Iran installs advanced nuclear centrifuges
Fri Apr 4, 2008 3:52am IST
By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges in its key uranium enrichment complex, accelerating activity that could give it the means to make atom bombs in future if it chooses, diplomats said on Thursday.

Iran says it 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 programme.

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 a pause of several months, Iran has now assembled more than 300 centrifuges divided into two cascades (interlinked networks) to expand beyond 3,000, diplomats with access to intelligence told Reuters.

"One of the two cascades is using the advanced model, the other the older one. There are more machines in the advanced cascade than the set of 164 typically used for the (older model)," said one of the diplomats, who asked for anonymity because the details remained confidential.

"Iran may not have had enough of the advanced one ready yet to put into two cascades. But they wanted to show the world they could go beyond the threshold of 3,000 now enriching at Natanz (despite international pressure) to stop."

Analysts believe Iran aims to gradually replace its start-up "P-1" centrifuge with "a new generation" it adapted from a "P-2" design, obtained via black markets from the West and able to enrich uranium 2-3 times faster than its older counterpart.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA told Reuters he was unaware of new progress at the Natanz enrichment complex, which is ringed by anti-aircraft guns against a feared U.S. 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.

Centrifuges are technically temperamental tubes that spin at supersonic speed to refine uranium to levels suitable for power plants or bombs, depending on their configuration.

NEW CENTRIFUGES PASS QUALITY TESTS

The first diplomatic source said Iran had completed quality control checks on the newly installed advanced centrifuges and was ready to start feeding uranium gas into them for enrichment, but it was unclear when this process would begin.

"Iran has already done most of the necessary vacuum tests, including leakage checks, to make sure the (latest) centrifuges are in working order and to activate them," he said.

"The two new cascades were installed to comply with a directive from President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad that on April 8, a date Iran has marked as National Nuclear Technology Day, a significant achievement would be displayed."

Ahmadinejad used the same occasion a year ago to proclaim industrial enrichment capacity. But nuclear analysts said then, and still say, Tehran has yet to show it can run centrifuges in large numbers at optimal speed nonstop for long periods -- the key to yielding usable quantities of enriched uranium.

Still, a U.S. intelligence report in December said Iran would gain a latent ability to build atomic warheads between 2010 and 2015 merely by gradually expanding the programme and mastering the technology.

The diplomats who reported Iran's advanced centrifuge assemblies said they were meant to "state a fait accompli" that Tehran has no intention of suspending enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council, but rather of accelerating progress towards industrial production of fissile nuclear material.

The IAEA is also pressing Iran to explain Western intelligence alleging that it conducted secret studies into how to "weaponise" nuclear materials despite its membership of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran says the information is forged.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said it was aiming to set up a meeting with a top Iranian nuclear official in Vienna in mid-April to have him address the intelligence fully.

© Reuters 2008



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