AFP: US experts doubt that Iran has begun enriching uranium in a recently built line of some 1,300 centrifuges, believing the expanded operation is still at the testing stage, a senior US official said Thursday. WASHINGTON, April 19, 2007 (AFP) – US experts doubt that Iran has begun enriching uranium in a recently built line of some 1,300 centrifuges, believing the expanded operation is still at the testing stage, a senior US official said Thursday.
Inspectors for the UN atomic watchdog reported this week that Iran had started feeding uranium gas into eight lines, or cascades, of 164 centrifuges each at its Natanz nuclear facility in defiance of UN demands it halt such work.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was in line with US estimates of the number of centrifuges the Iranians had built at Natanz.
But he questioned reports that the Iranians had begun introducing uranium hexafluoride gas, known as UF6, into the cascades in order to obtain enriched uranium, which can be used to fuel nuclear power plants or build atomic bombs.
“There is a question about for what purpose they might be introducing UF6 into the centrifuges cascade,” he said.
“I’m not aware of their introducing UF6 specifically to get the end product of highly enriched or enriched uranium,” he said.
McCormack said it was more likely the gas was introduced into the centrifuges “basically to calibrate them and to test them for whether or not they’re working.”
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced earlier this month that Iran had begun “industrial scale” uranium enrichment, meaning operating at least 3,000 centrifuges.
But experts expressed doubt that the Iranians had overcome the significant technical hurdles involved in such an operation and the IAEA report leaked to journalists this week confirmed that the Iranian program remained far short of what would normally be considered “industrial scale” enrichment.
McCormack suggested Iran’s exaggeration of its capabilities was designed both to firm up domestic support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and to maintain Tehran’s defiance of international demands it suspend its nuclear work.
“The message that comes through most clearly is … they’re going to continue to poke their finger into the eye of the international system,” he said.
“They should expect that there will be a response to that — the response is that they will find themselves increasingly isolated,” he said.
The United Nations has twice imposed sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend its nuclear enrichment work in exchange for incentives including energy aid and improved relations with the United States.