Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R).
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
TEHRAN - Iran has started moving the machines that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel from its main atomic complex in the central city of Natanz to an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom, its top nuclear official was quoted as saying on Monday.
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"Transferring Natanz centrifuges to Fordow (near Qom) is under way with full observance of standards," Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani told state broadcaster IRIB. "Fordow's facilities are being prepared and some centrifuges have been transferred."
Iran announced in June that it would shift its production of higher-grade uranium to the underground site at Fordow, in defiance of international calls on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment which some countries say is aimed at developing nuclear bombs, a charge Iran denies.
Iran only disclosed the existence of Fordow to the UN nuclear watchdog in September 2009 after learning that Western intelligence agencies had detected the mountain site.
Moving sensitive nuclear work to the underground bunker could offer
greater protection against any attacks by Israel or the United States,
which have both said they do not rule out pre-emptive strikes to stop
Iran getting nuclear weapons.
Tehran said in June that it aimed to triple its capacity to enrich
uranium to a higher grade -- 20 percent fissile purity -- which it says
will be used to power a medical research reactor .
Iran says it is now manufacturing nuclear fuel plates out of the 20
percent material for that purpose, although Western officials and
analysts suspect Tehran's actual goal is to further enrich to the 90
percent level required for atom bombs.
A day after the June announcement, the six world powers that have
negotiated with Tehran about its nuclear program issued a new statement
about their "deepened concerns" of possible military dimensions to its
There was no immediate comment from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Abbasi's comments.
In an interview with Reuters on Friday, IAEA Director General Yukiya
Amano said that moving centrifuges to Qom and increasing enrichment
capacity was a "further deviation" from several UN Security Council
resolutions, which demand that Iran suspend all enrichment-related
activities to foster serious negotiations on a peaceful solution to the
When asked whether Iran was installing centrifuges at Fordow, Amano told
Reuters that his agency "would know better in coming week," referring
to the latest quarterly report on Iran's nuclear activities due next
Amano said the IAEA was in talks with Iran on how the agency's inspectors would monitor activities at Fordow.
"What we are doing is that we are monitoring and we are negotiating the
new safeguard approach to verify the activities," he said. "They are
having close contact with us to agree on the new safeguard procedure."
Last week Russia launched a fresh diplomatic campaign to re-engage Iran
in nuclear talks with world powers that stalled in January over Iran's
insistence on its right to enrich uranium despite UN resolutions calling
on it to stop.