An Iranian exile group Thursday said Iran has produced 15 sophisticated centrifuges for enriching uranium and said hundreds more could be operational by the end of next year.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, said a secret company was manufacturing the centrifuges outside of Tehran. It said supporters inside Iran provided the information but offered no specifics or evidence.
If Iran does have the more advanced P-2 centrifuge, as it is known, it could significantly speed up its uranium enrichment program, which it has been under intense international pressure to halt out of concern Iran could use the technology to build nuclear weapons.
Iran insisted its program was only for the generation of nuclear power.
The UN Security Council has given the country until Aug. 31 to stop its uranium enrichment work or face possible economic and political sanctions.
"Our intelligence shows that in the next year, they will have hundreds of P-2 centrifuges," Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the NCRI's foreign affairs committee, said at a Paris news conference.
In April, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country was conducting laboratory research on the P-2. Some analysts say Ahmadinejad may have deliberately exaggerated Iran's capabilities, either to boost his own political support or to persuade the UN's nuclear watchdog agency to back off.
Iran in April also announced that, for the first time, it had enriched a small amount of uranium to low levels using 164 of the less-sophisticated P-1 centrifuges.
Iran is known to have received plans or designs in the mid-1990s for the P-2 centrifuges - developed by a European enrichment consortium called Urenco - through a black-market network run by A.Q. Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. It isn't known, however, if Iran was ever able to replicate those designs and actually make a P-2.
At the news conference, the exile group named the company it said was producing the P-2 as the Iran Centrifuge Technology Co., which it said was also known as TSA. The group said the company has an office in central Tehran and is manufacturing the centrifuges at a site to the northeast of the capital, which it pointed out to journalists on a satellite map.
The group also provided a list of 18 scientists and other experts who it said could be involved in the work, and claimed Iran was also working to increase the number of P-1 centrifuges.
NCRI - the political arm of the Mujahedeen Khalq, a group that Washington and the European Union list as a terrorist organization - has a mixed record of accuracy.
Four years ago it disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites that helped uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian atomic activity and sparked the present fears that Tehran wants to build a bomb. But most of the information it has presented since then to back up claims Iran has a secret weapons program hasn't been publicly verified.