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Iran set to announce nuclear plans

Reuters | April 9, 2007
Parisa Hafezi

Iran's president may announce on Monday his country has begun the first stage of what it calls "industrial-scale" uranium enrichment, a move likely to anger the West which fears the plan is aimed at making atomic bombs.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will reveal what Iranian media and officials have described as the "good news" during a tour of the enrichment facility at Natanz in the center of the country.

Iranian newspapers suggested his declaration would involve saying Iran had installed new centrifuges used in the enrichment process, which can make power-plant fuel or material for warheads. But officials have been tight-lipped on details.

"Good atomic news will be announced today in the afternoon by the president in Natanz," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted by Iran's ISNA news agency as saying.

Ahmadinejad is being joined by senior Iranian atomic officials at Natanz, about 200 km (125 miles) south of Tehran. He is expected to hold a news conference at about 1200 GMT.

Tehran has rejected U.N. demands to halt enrichment and has instead vowed to expand what it insists is peaceful atomic work. In response, the U.N. Security Council has passed two sanctions resolutions on Iran since December.

Iran, which now runs about 350 experimental centrifuges, has said it plans to build 3,000 at Natanz as the first stage towards "industrial-scale" nuclear fuel production. Eventually, it aims to operate about 54,000 centrifuges.

"Some sources say that Iran wants to announce the start-up for 18 cascades as good news," the daily Etemad-e Melli said.

The centrifuges are installed in cascades or networks of 164 machines each, so 18 cascades is equivalent to almost 3,000. The paper described the move as "semi-industrial scale" operations.

With 3,000 machines, Iran could make enough material for a bomb in one year, if it wanted, Western experts say.

SURVEILLANCE

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says it wants to make fuel for a network of nuclear power plants its wants to build so it can preserve its massive oil and gas reserves for exports. Its first atomic plant is still under construction.

As well as the 350 centrifuges it runs at Natanz above ground, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in February Iran had already set up two cascades of 164 centrifuges at an underground section there, where the 3,000 are due to be installed.

Diplomats who follow Iran's nuclear file say Tehran has set up four more cascades since February, bringing the total number now in the underground section to six cascades or 984 centrifuges. They have said no feedstock has been fed in yet.

The IAEA, THE U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, says it has gaps in its knowledge about Iran's plans that need to be filled before it can confirm they are peaceful.

The IAEA is pushing Tehran to agree to let it install cameras in the underground section of Natanz to monitor Iran's work. Iran says such intrusive surveillance goes beyond its basic safeguards commitment to the IAEA. Talks continue.

Angered by the second sanctions resolution in March, Iran said it would limit cooperation with the IAEA by not giving early word of plans to build new nuclear installations, backing out of a voluntary agreement to provide such information.

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