VIENNA - Iran could be able to make thousands of next-generation uranium enrichment machines, according to a former chief UN inspector, adding credibility to Tehran's claims of technical advances in its disputed nuclear program.
As Iran and world powers prepare to resume talks aimed at easing a dispute that has raised fears of a new Middle East war, Tehran announced late last month it planned to install the new machines at its main enrichment plant.
The move underlined Iran's defiance of international demands to scale back the uranium enrichment which Tehran says is for civilian purposes but which could also potentially be used to make material for atom bombs.
Olli Heinonen, until 2010 a deputy director general of the UN nuclear agency, said Iran had started purchasing special materials needed for manufacturing new centrifuges years ago when the sanctions on the country were not as strict as now.
It was not clear how many of the upgraded centrifuges Iran aimed to put in place at its enrichment Natanz plant, which is designed for tens of thousands of machines. But the wording of a note by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to member states last week implied it could be as many as 3,000.