iran map nuclear 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A top Iranian nuclear official said Friday that UN inspectors have set up cameras in an underground facility where the country intends to install 3,000 new centrifuges to allow them to monitor the activity.
The official, speaking on condition anonymity because he was not authorized to give statements to media, said the cameras were put in place over the past few days, ending Thursday.
The underground facility is located in the central Natanz uranium enrichment plant that has been at the center of a tug-of-war between Iran and the international community.
The United Nations has demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment and has imposed sanctions on the country in December for refusing to halt the process which could lead to Teheran producing a nuclear bomb.
"The cameras have been installed on the basis of Iran's obligations," the official told The Associated Press, stressing that centrifuge installment has not yet started at Natanz.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested on Thursday that centrifuge hookups would start next week, with the aim of linking 3,000 of the machines.
The Iranian official was adamant to point out that no new centrifuges have been installed in Natanz yet.
Cascades of 164 centrifuges are already above ground at Natanz, and International Atomic Energy Agency cameras have been in place there for long, watching Iranian activities around the clock.
Even if Teheran proves successful in installing 3,000 centrifuges, experts estimate that it would take several years for all of them to be running smoothly and without breakdowns. Once that happens, Teheran could potentially produce two bombs a year, experts say.
Ultimately, Iran plans to have 54,000 centrifuges producing enriched uranium.
The Iranian nuclear official also denied reports on Friday by Western media that Teheran has restricted access at the plant by inspectors from the UN's nuclear watchdog agency, calling the reports "unprofessional."
"No restrictions have been imposed," he said, adding that the IAEA inspectors have access to the Natanz site in "accordance with regulations" and Iran's agreement allowing IAEA monitors to inspect Iran's nuclear program.
"Such reports are aimed at damaging and disrupting the trend of cooperation between Iran and the IAEA," the official said.
The comments came as diplomats accredited with the IAEA in Vienna, Austria said hundreds of technicians and laborers had been "working feverishly" at the Natanz underground facility over the past few weeks, setting up piping, control panels and electric cables.
The work is a considered a final step in preparations before installing the centrifuge equipment that the West fears could be used to make nuclear arms.
Iran's push to persevere with the centrifuges marks an escalation of the confrontation between Teheran and the world's major powers over the Islamic republic's nuclear program. It will likely spur US efforts to sharpen existing UN sanctions already slapped on Iran.
Iran says it wants to develop enrichment to generate power, but the United States and other countries fear Teheran will use the material for the fissile core of nuclear warheads.