Iran Nuclear NewsIran installs 328 centrifuges at atomic site

Iran installs 328 centrifuges at atomic site

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Reuters: Iran has installed two cascades of 164 centrifuges each in its underground Natanz nuclear plant, laying a basis for “industrial-scale” enrichment of uranium for atomic fuel, European diplomatic sources said on Monday. VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has installed two cascades of 164 centrifuges each in its underground Natanz nuclear plant, laying a basis for “industrial-scale” enrichment of uranium for atomic fuel, European diplomatic sources said on Monday.

The cascades were to be test-run shortly, without uranium feedstock inside, and fuel material would then be added if the tests were successful, they said. The 328 centrifuges would be the vanguard of 3,000 planned for installation in coming months.

Iran completed infrastructure preparations to launch the vast subterranean plant, which is fortified and flanked by anti-aircraft guns, over the past several weeks.

Firing up the cascades would dramatically sharpen Iran’s confrontation with Western powers that pushed through limited U.N. sanctions on Tehran in December to try to curb its nuclear activity over fears it is secretly trying to build atom bombs.

The Islamic Republic, the world’s No. 4 oil producer, says it wants solely civilian atomic energy from uranium enrichment.

Diplomats said the installation of the first two cascades was likely to be the gist of Iran’s planned announcement of significant progress in uranium enrichment on or before the February 11 completion of Islamic Revolution anniversary celebrations.

“Two cascades have been installed in the underground plant, but they are not yet being run with gas,” said a European Union diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspectors at Natanz.

“Their plan is to start dry-spinning the cascades within days and then start feeding them with UF6 (uranium feedstock gas),” the diplomat told Reuters, alluding to findings during recent visits by IAEA inspectors.

“The Iranians appear to intend to have about six cascades (roughly 1,000 centrifuges) installed by the spring, and the rest of the 3,000 by around June.”

A diplomat from another EU state had identical information.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA.

IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei will report to the U.N. Security Council on February 21 on whether Iran has heeded a demand to stop enriching uranium. If not, broader sanctions could loom.

“Iran is heading in the opposite direction from that sought by the Security Council,” said the first EU diplomat.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau)

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