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An Iranian nuclear agency official has denied claims made by a top lawmaker that the Islamic Republic had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant, Iran's state-run news agency reported.
Hossein Simorgh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization public relations department, said "no new centrifuges have been installed in Natanz," referring to the nuclear facility in central Iran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported late Saturday.
It was not immediately clear why the two officials made contradicting statements. Iranian officials have in recent weeks said the country was moving toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.
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Earlier, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian Parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said the installation of centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant "stabilizes Iran's capability in the field of nuclear technology," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"We are right now installing 3,000 centrifuges," Boroujerdi was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Large scale use of centrifuges is necessary to enrich enough uranium for use in a nuclear reactor. Highly enriched uranium is required to make nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials had said in recent weeks that the country was moving toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.
Boroujerdi's comments came a day after UN officials said Iran plans to begin work next month on an underground uranium enrichment facility, as part of a plan to create a network of tens of thousands of machines to enrich uranium.
Iranian officials have said repeatedly that work would start soon on the uranium enrichment facility at its Natanz underground plant. There had been speculation the leadership might launch the project next month to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought the clerical leadership to power.
But the timing of the work may in part be a gesture of defiance. The Security Council's 60-day deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment runs out next month, paving the way for further sanctions.
"I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000 centrifuge facility ... sometime next month," IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters at the World Economic Forum said Friday.
Iran ultimately plans to expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges, a large operation more enriching uranium within a shorter period of time.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of trying to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is only for generating electricity, not a bomb.
In enrichment plants, centrifuges are linked in what are called cascades. For now, the only known assembled centrifuge cascades in Iran are above ground at Natanz, consisting of two linked chains of 164 machines each and two smaller setups.