Iran Announces 'Industrial Scale' Uranium Enrichment

Monday, April 9th 2007, 8:03 am
By: News On 6

NATANZ, Iran (AP) _ Iran is prepared to start ``industrial scale'' enrichment of uranium, the vice president said Monday, expanding a key nuclear process that the United Nations has demanded the country halt.

The announcement came as Iran celebrated the one-year anniversary of its first success in enriching small amounts of uranium at its Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.

``Now we are entering the mass production of centrifuges and starting to launch industrial scale enrichment, another step toward the flourishing of Islamic Iran,'' Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said at a ceremony at Natanz.

Aghazadeh, who heads Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, did not elaborate. Industrial-scale enrichment is the term Iran uses to mean a capability to produce greater levels of nuclear fuel _ which would suggest Iran has increased the number of centrifuges working at Natanz.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to speak later at the ceremonies and announce ``good nuclear news,'' according to state-run TV. The Iranian press has speculated he will announce the installation of 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

The U.N. has imposed limited sanctions on Iran until it suspends enrichment a key process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the basis of a warhead. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, a claim the country denies.

Iranian state television reported Monday that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general who is banned from traveling abroad under the sanctions has visited Russia without any difficulty.

Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, who is also deputy interior minister for security affairs, was quoted on the state TV Web site as saying that his six-day journey to Moscow, which ended Monday, showed ``the ineffectiveness of the resolution.''

The resolution calls on all governments to ban visits by the 15 individuals and says that should such visits occur _ presumably for exceptional circumstances _ the countries should notify a U.N. committee.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov confirmed that Zolqadr visited Russia. He told The Associated Press that the resolution does not prohibit visits by the listed individuals, but calls for heightened vigilance ``directed first of all at people who are directly related to nuclear programs'' _ suggesting that Zolqadr was not.

The unveiling of new centrifuges at Natanz, in central Iran, would be a strong show of defiance toward the United Nations, which has vowed to ratchet up sanctions as long as Iran refuses to suspend enrichment. The Security Council has set a new deadline of late May.

Tensions are also high between Iran and the West following the 13-day detention of 15 British sailors by Iran. The sailors, who were seized by Revolutionary Guards off the Iraqi coast, were released on Wednesday, but since then have said they were put under psychological pressure by their captors to force them to ``confess'' to being in Iranian waters when captured, angering many in Britain.

Diplomats from developing nations were attending Monday's celebrations at Natanz, but diplomats from European Union boycotted to protest Iran's refusal of the U.N. demands, said the Foreign Ministry in Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said his country was willing to negotiate with the West and offer assurances that its program is peaceful. But he said the West must accept its nuclear program as a fact.

``We are ready to reach understanding with the Westerners through a corridor of real negotiations _ in the current situation, in which Iran's nuclear activities have been concluded,'' state television quoted Larijani as saying.

``The understanding regards assuring the other party about the peacefulness of Iran's nuclear activities,'' he said. ``But we do not give in our rights.''

Across Iran, school bells rang to mark the ``national day of nuclear energy.'' The government sent out SMS messages of congratulations for the occasion to millions of mobile phone users.

In Tehran, some 200 students formed a human chain at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization while chanting ``death to America'' and ``death to Britain.'' The students burnt flags of the U.S. and Britain.

On April 9, 2006, Iran announced it had first enriched uranium using an array of 164 centrifuges.

Iran has said its next step is to set up 3,000 centrifuges, but it is not clear where the project stands.

Experts say the Natanz plant needs between 50,000 to 60,000 centrifuges to consistently produce fuel for a reactor or build a warhead.

In the enrichment process, uranium gas is pumped into a ``cascade'' of thousands of centrifuges, which spin the gas at supersonic speeds to purify it. Uranium enriched to a low level, at least 3 percent, can be used as fuel, while at a far higher level, more than 90 percent, it can be used to build a weapon.

Iran currently has two cascades of 164 centrifuges each operating at an aboveground portion of the Natanz facility in central Iran. The two cascades have produced small quantities of non-weapons grade enriched uranium, U.N. nuclear inspectors have said.