Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iran says it will develop large-scale uranium enrichment to fuel nuclear plant

Ali Akbar Dareini Canadian Press Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran intends to develop large-scale uranium enrichment, signalling the country's resolve to expand a program the UN Security Council has demanded it halt, deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi said Wednesday.

Saeedi's comments came amid an outcry by major powers over Iran's announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium on a small scale for the first time, using 164 centrifuges, at a facility in the central town of Natanz.

The Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all enrichment activity by April 28 because of suspicions the program really aims to make weapons.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, was heading to Iran on Wednesday for talks aimed at resolving the standoff. However, the timing of Tehran's announcement suggested Iran wanted to present him with a fait accompli and argue that it cannot be expected to entirely give up a program showing progress.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the success Tuesday in a nationally televised ceremony, saying that the country's nuclear ambitions were peaceful and warning the West that trying to force Iran to abandon enrichment would "cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians."

Iran's ally Russia joined the United States and Europe in condemning the announcement.

"We believe that this step is wrong. It runs counter to decisions of the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) and resolutions of the UN Security Council," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against dramatizing the situation and reiterated Moscow's firm opposition to any military action against Iran.

The United States and Europe are pressing for sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China have so far opposed. Washington has also held out threats of a military option.

Denouncing Iran's successful enrichment of uranium as unacceptable to the international community, U.S. Secretary of State Conodoleezza Rice said the Security Council must consider "strong steps" to induce Tehran to change course.

"This is not a question of Iran's right to civil nuclear power," she said. "This is a question of . . . the world does not believe that Iran should have the capability and the technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon."

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government also said Iran's announcement was cause for concern. "It is another step in the wrong direction by Iran," German government spokesman Thomas Steg said.

French government officials called the move worrying. "We are in the process of diplomatic regulation of this affair," said French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope. "We call on Iran to respect its obligations" and stop nuclear activities.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Wednesday he was "seriously concerned" by Ahmadinejad's announcement.

Iran has pushed for further negotiations with the IAEA and has previously hinted it might agree to stick to a small-scale enrichment program as a compromise.

But Saeedi on Wednesday said Iran intends to build up the program.

"We will expand uranium enrichment to industrial scale at Natanz," Saeedi told state-run television. He said Iran has informed the IAEA that it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz by late 2006 and that it will then expand to 54,000 centrifuges, though he did not say when.

He said using 54,000 centrifuges will be able to produce enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a 1000-megawatt nuclear power plant like the one Russia is currently putting the finishing touches on in southern Iran.

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani - a powerful figure in the country's clerical-dominated government - warned that pressuring Iran over enrichment "might not have good consequences for the area and the world."

If the West wants "to solve issues in good faith, that could be easily possible, and if they want to .

. . pressure us on our nuclear activities, things will become difficult and thorny for all," Rafsanjani said in an interview published Wednesday in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam.

Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials underlined that their countries intentions were peaceful.

"There is no worry as we will not threaten anyone and will not bother anybody in any place of this world," Rafsanjani said as he arrived in Damascus on Wednesday, according to Syria's official news agency SANA.

Enrichment is a key process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or the material needed for a nuclear reactor. But thousands of centrifuges - arranged in a network called a cascade - are needed for either purpose, and getting so many centrifuges to work together is a difficult task.

Iran resumed research on enrichment at Natanz in February. Saeedi said scientists there slowly built up the number of centrifuges in the cascade - first using four, then 10, then 20. On Sunday, they succeeded in enriching an amount of uranium to the 3.5 per cent needed for a reactor, using 164 centrifuges.

"The next stage is to install 3,000 centrifuges. We definitely won't have problems doing that. We just need to increase our production line," he said.

Enriching uranium to the much higher levels needed for a nuclear warhead is even more difficult, requiring tens of thousands of centrifuges or much longer periods of time.


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