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Iran revives atom enrichment work
Updated: 2006-02-15 08:57


Iran, which frequently calls for Israel's destruction, denies any military intent in its nuclear work, saying it is designed solely to generate electricity for its economy.

Tehran believes the Western-backed push to control its nuclear program will eventually fade because of international dependence on Iranian oil and gas exports.

An official close to the IAEA said the amount of UF6 being introduced into centrifuges "was of absolutely no use" in making weapons-grade fuel and that the new work was "an early testing phase en route to mastering the technology."

He said Iran remained at least months away from reactivating the entire cascade of 164 centrifuges. Another diplomat dealing with the IAEA said Tehran had components for another 1,000-1,500 centrifuges in storage for future assembly.

"They face technical difficulties merely getting the 164 back on line," the official told Reuters.

Nuclear analysts say around 1,500 centrifuges would be needed for Iran to manufacture the minimum 20 kg (45 kg) of highly enriched uranium needed for one crude warhead.

Uranium hexafluoride typically must be enriched to 5 percent purity for nuclear reactor fuel and to around 90 percent to set off the chain reaction required for a bomb.

Iranian officials said while "industrial-scale" enrichment at Natanz was some ways off, preliminary work to revive the pilot project had begun, intensifying international concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran says it aims eventually to have 50,000 centrifuges running to provide fuel for its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr nearing completion by Russian builders.

Iran had vowed to resume uranium enrichment and halt short-notice IAEA inspections in retaliation for the IAEA vote.

Russia and France called on Iran to cease "all activities connected with enrichment and processing" of nuclear fuel.


"(But) what they've undertaken here is entirely legitimate within the anti-proliferation safeguards agreements Iran has with the IAEA," the official close to the agency said. "The main issue for the IAEA is for Iran to clarify unanswered questions regarding past concealment of its program.

"What they're doing now may demonstrate that maybe the board vote wasn't the wisest way forward, from the pragmatic point of view. The train (enrichment) has left the station and it will be pretty hard to stop it now," the official added.

Russia has offered to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf in a compromise designed to allay world fears that the Iranians might siphon nuclear material off into underground bomb-making.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi said talks on the proposal would now start in Moscow on February 20.

"We still want to reach a formula to prove that we will not divert uranium enriched on Iranian soil," he told reporters.

Diplomats said Iran wanted to drag out talks with Russia, without giving up its right to enrich uranium at home, hoping that diplomatic activity will defer any Security Council action.

Iran has already undercut Moscow's proposal by announcing it was exercising its right to resume uranium enrichment at Natanz.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei plans a conclusive report to the agency's board on March 6 on Iran. His report will go to the Security Council ahead of an expected debate on how to curb Iran's atomic work, with sanctions a possible option.

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