Ahmadinejad at Natanz (R) 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
VIENNA - Iran is stepping up centrifuge development work aimed at making
its nuclear enrichment more efficient, diplomats say, signaling a
possible advance in the Islamic Republic's disputed atomic
Two newer and more advanced models of
the breakdown-prone machine that Iran now operates to refine uranium are
being installed for large-scale testing at a research site near the
central town of Natanz, the diplomats told Reuters this week.
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If Iran eventually succeeds in
introducing the more modern centrifuges for production, it could
significantly shorten the time needed to stockpile material that can
have civilian as well as military purposes, if processed much
But it is unclear whether Tehran,
subject to increasingly strict international sanctions, has the means
and components to make the more sophisticated machines in bigger
Iran denies Western accusations it is
seeking to develop nuclear weapons and says it is refining uranium for
electricity generation and medical applications.
Tehran's refusal to halt enrichment has drawn four rounds of UN
sanctions, as well as increasingly tough US and European punitive
measures on the major oil producer.
Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges with several
times the capacity of the 1970s-vintage, IR-1 version it now uses for
the most sensitive part of its atomic activities.
Marking a potential step forward for those plans, diplomats said
work was under way to set up two units of 164 new machines each. Until
now, only smaller chains or individual centrifuges of the IR-4 and IR-2m
models have been tested at the R&D site.
"They are moving forward here," said one senior diplomat, from a
member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "This is slow
and steady but notable progress they are making."
Other diplomats confirmed that installment was taking place, but
was not yet finished. There was no comment from Iran's mission to the
IAEA, the Vienna-based UN atomic watchdog.
Testing of a complete 164-centrifuge cascade has been due for a
long time and it would be an "important step," said Olli Heinonen, a
former head of IAEA inspections worldwide.