Reuters: A senior Iranian official dismissed on Wednesday doubts about whether Iran had achieved industrial-scale nuclear fuel production and said scepticism about its programme had proved incorrect in the past. By Edmund Blair
TEHRAN (Reuters) – A senior Iranian official dismissed on Wednesday doubts about whether Iran had achieved industrial-scale nuclear fuel production and said scepticism about its programme had proved incorrect in the past.
“Maybe they thought we needed more time to reach the industrial stage but due to the efforts of our specialists we have already reached that stage,” the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Mohammad Saeedi, said in comments carried by the Iranian state broadcaster’s Web site.
Iran declared on Monday it had begun industrial enrichment of uranium, a process the West fears Iran is mastering so that it can make atomic bombs. It also said it had injected uranium gas feedstock into a batch of 3,000 centrifuges it is building.
The announcement marked a shift from experimental enrichment work Iran had been conducting. Tehran insists its nuclear work is to make fuel for power plants not to build bombs.
Monday’s declaration by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and senior Iranian nuclear officials was thin on detail and did not include a clear statement on the number of new centrifuges in operation. Saeedi did not give details on Wednesday.
Russia, Iran’s closest big power ally, said on Tuesday it was “not aware of any technological breakthroughs”. Diplomats who follow Iran’s file have also expressed doubts and a senior German official echoed this uncertainty on Wednesday.
“There is a good deal of doubt whether there are really 3,000 centrifuges. We will probably get more information in the next few days as IAEA inspectors should be going to Natanz,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told German radio.
Two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors began a week-long, routine visit to Iran to see the Natanz facility where Iran carries out its enrichment work. They could provide the first independent assessment of Iran’s assertion.
DETERMINED TO CONTINUE
Erler said the announcement indicated Iran was determined to continue work which the United Nations has told it to stop. Iran’s refusal has prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose two rounds of sanctions since December.
“In terms of direction, it points to a continuation of the programme — so that combined international pressure must be continued,” Erler said.
Iran has made claims of advances in the past but experts say it has often glossed over technical hitches that have meant its experimental centrifuges, the machines used in the enrichment process, could not run smoothly and without hitches.
“Just like last year, there are some doubts about the successful installation of the centrifuges,” Saeedi said.
“Last year, when we talked about the successful installation of the chain of 164 centrifuges, there were some doubts for one or two months, until the IAEA admitted after its inspections and taking samples that the Iranian scientists had been successful.”
A year ago, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had managed to enrich uranium for the first time in small quantities after a similarly high-profile declaration by Ahmadinejad.
Iran could make enough material for an atomic bomb in a year with 3,000 centrifuges, if it wanted, but that would require the machines to be running without hitches, Western experts say.
(Additional reporting by Berlin bureau)