Iran unveiled a third generation of domestically built centrifuges
Friday as the Islamic Republic accelerates a uranium enrichment program
that has alarmed world powers fearful of the nuclear program's aims.
The new machines are capable of much faster enrichment than those now
being used in Iran's nuclear facilities, and Iranian officials praised
the advancement as a step toward greater self-sufficiency in the face
of international sanctions targeted at choking off the nuclear work.
During a ceremony marking Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pulled back a white curtain to
reveal one of the tall, cylindrical machines to a crowd of assembled
dignitaries. The display capped months of announcements about the
development of the new machines.
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Ahmadinejad declared there was no way back for Iran's nuclear work despite opposition from the United States and other world powers, though he insisted it had only peaceful aims like power generation.
Iran would remain a nuclear state, he said, "whether enemies want it or not."
President Barack Obama's announcement on Tuesday of a new American nuclear policy enraged Iran's leaders because the guidelines classify Iran as a potential target for a nuclear attack. Obama's policy included pledges to reduce America's nuclear arsenal, refrain from nuclear tests and not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.
Iran and North Korea were not included in that pledge because they do not cooperate with other countries on nonproliferation standards.
Ahmadinejad called the promised arsenal reduction "a show and a big lie" aimed at allowing Washington to keep the bulk of its weapons. The policy would only encourage nations to seek a nuclear military option, he said.
"When you threaten, you are encouraging other nations to prepare it," Ahmadinejad said.
The new generation of centrifuges, which spin uranium gas at extremely high speeds to purify it, will allow Iran to produce fuel for as many as six nuclear power plants, the president said.
The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the machines were 10 times more powerful than ones now in use and had passed all necessary mechanical tests.
The machines are at the core of Iran's disputed nuclear program. Enrichment technology is of concern to the international community because it can be used to generate fuel for power stations or material for nuclear bombs.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran's civilian work is a cover for developing a weapons capability. With more advanced centrifuges, Iran can more rapidly amass enriched material that could be turned into the fissile core of warheads, should Tehran choose to do so.
Ahmadinejad said Iran would not go down that path.
"We oppose the atomic bomb; we have announced it many times," he said. Those pursuing the bomb were foolish because "the era of superiority based on the A-bomb is over," he added.
Iran's first nuclear power plant is to be inaugurated later this year in the southern port of Bushehr with the help of Russia. Iran says it plans to build some 20 nuclear power plants.
Ahmadinejad also announced that Iran aspired in the future to export nuclear technology.
Seeking to support claims of nuclear self-sufficiency, Salehi, the nuclear chief, said Iran recently examined a uranium deposit in the center of the country with "a remarkable reservoir."
That runs counter to the belief that Iran does not have significant deposits of raw uranium, making it dependent on imports.
Iran has two known uranium enrichment plants and announced in February
that it plans to start construction this year on two more facilities
deep inside mountains to protect them from attack.
Iran says it will install more than 50,000 centrifuges at its main
enrichment facility in the central town of Natanz. Currently they have
installed about 9,000 there.
"Any hand from any point in the world will be cut before extending against the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said Friday.
During the ceremony, Iran also displayed dummy fuel disks made of
copper instead of aluminum and uranium. That marked a step toward
enriching uranium to a higher level of 20 percent for a medical
research reactor in Tehran. Higher levels of enrichment are worrying to
the international community because it brings Iran closer to possible
production of weapons-grade material.