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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Iran expands uranium enrichment program

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran has begun installing 3,000 centrifuges in an expansion of its uranium enrichment program that brings the Islamic nation significantly closer to large-scale production of nuclear fuel, the president said Saturday.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also claimed that the international community was caving in to Tehran's demands to continue its nuclear program.

"Resistance of the Iranian nation in the past year forced them to retreat tens of steps over the Iran's nuclear issue," the semi-official Fars agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. Fars is considered to be close to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran has been locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. The U.S. alleges that Tehran is secretly trying to develop atomic weapons, but Iran contends its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.

Iran said earlier this year that it intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006, and then expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material to produce nuclear fuel.

Uranium enrichment at low levels can be used to produce fuel to generate electricity but at higher levels can be use to make atomic bombs.

"We have started installing 3,000 centrifuges" at a plant in central Iran, Ahmadinejad told a group of students in Tehran on Saturday, according to Fars. He said the move, at a plant in central Iran, marks the "first step toward industrial production.

"We will be able to produce our nuclear fuel once we install 60,000 centrifuges," he said.

Iranian nuclear officials say 54,000 centrifuges would produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a 1,000-megawatt reactor, such as the one Iran has built with Russian assistance at Bushehr, southern Iran. The reactor is due to come on stream next year.

The United States and its European allies have been seeking a
U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend enrichment. But Russia and China have opposed tough action advocated by the U.S., Britain, Germany and France and the Security Council appears to have reached a standstill on the issue.

Iran announced for the first time in February that it had enriched uranium using 164 centrifuges, and it confirmed last month that it has stepped up uranium enrichment by injecting gas into a second network of centrifuges.

"When we built these centrifuges, they (the U.S. and its European allies) said Iran won't be able to assemble them. ... Now, a month has passed since we launched the second cascade," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.issue.

Ahmadinejad boasted last month that Iran would soon celebrate, probably in February, the completion of its nuclear fuel cycle program — from mining uranium ore to enriching it.

On Friday, key European nations circulated a revised U.N. resolution that narrowed the proposed sanctions on Iran in a bid to win Russian and Chinese support. The new draft would ban the supply of materials and technology that could contribute to Iran's program, but it gave much greater detail on what items would be prohibited.

Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. Officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decade
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