Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

U.N.: Iran begins enriching uranium

April 19, 2007

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— Iran has started enriching small amounts of uranium gas at its underground nuclear plant and is running more than 1,300 of the centrifuges used in the process, according to a U.N. nuclear watchdog document obtained Wednesday.

The confidential document - a letter to Iranian officials from a senior staff member at the International Atomic Energy Agency - also protests an Iranian decision to prevent agency inspectors from visiting the country's heavy water facility that, when built, will produce plutonium.

Enriched uranium and plutonium can both be used for the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

The letter, signed by IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen and dated April 18, said Iran has provided information to the agency that it has put into operation 1,312 centrifuges - the machines used to spin the gas into enriched uranium.

The letter also cites Iranian information to the agency that "some UF6 is being fed" into the centrifuges at the underground Natanz facility, referring to the uranium gas that can be enriched to levels potent enough to be used for nuclear arms.

Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to lower levels suitable to generate nuclear power. But suspicions about its ultimate intentions have led to U.N. Security Council sanctions for its refusal to freeze its enrichment program.

Last week, Iran said it had begun operating 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz - nearly 10 times the previously known number. The U.S., Britain, France and others criticized the announcement, but experts - and several world powers - expressed skepticism that Iran's claims were true.

Still, the IAEA letter reflected a swift advance in the program. A little more than two weeks ago, diplomats familiar with Iran's nuclear dossier had said Teheran was running just more than 600 centrifuges, and had not introduced any uranium gas into any of them.

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