Iran installing new nuclear equipment: IAEA
VIENNA (AFP) – World powers condemned Iran just days before talks on its controversial nuclear programme, after an IAEA report said it had begun installing advanced equipment at one of its main nuclear plants.
“On 6 February 2013, the Agency observed that Iran had started the installation of IR-2m centrifuges” at the Natanz plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency report said.
“This is the first time that centrifuges more advanced than the IR-1 have been installed” at the plant in central Iran, the UN atomic watchdog added. One official said Iran intended to install around 3,000 of the new centrifuges at Natanz enabling it to speed up the enrichment of uranium.
This process is at the heart of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, since highly enriched uranium can be used in a nuclear weapon.
The US State Department denounced the development as “yet another provocative step” by Iran and White House spokesman Jay Carney warned Tehran it had a choice.
“If it fails to address the concerns of the international community, it will face more pressure and become increasingly isolated,” he said Thursday.
“The burden of sanctions could be eased, but the onus is on Iran to turn its stated readiness to negotiate, into tangible action.”
Britain expressed “serious concern”.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, warned that Tehran was “closer than ever” to achieving the amount of enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb.
The report was “severe” and “proves Iran is continuing to rapidly advance to the red line” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the international community must draw to prevent Iran obtaining an atomic weapon, Netanyahu’s office said.
Israel has refused to rule out bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Despite the developments at Natanz, the IAEA’s quarterly report seen by AFP also noted that Iran had not started operating any new equipment at its Fordo plant.
Fordo is of more concern to the international community, since it is used to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 per cent: at Natanz it is mostly to five per cent.
The ability to enrich to 20 per cent is technically speaking considerably closer to 90 per cent, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.