Reuters: Iran's progress in developing uranium enrichment is slow and recent additions to its nuclear fuel production complex have only been older-model centrifuges, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Thursday.
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran's progress in developing uranium enrichment is slow and recent additions to its nuclear fuel production complex have only been older-model centrifuges, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Thursday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had between 3,300 and 3,400 centrifuges of the 1970s vintage P-1 type operational in the Natanz enrichment hall, up from 3,000 at the end of last year.
He urged Iran to refrain from speeding up its enrichment campaign until a dispute between the Islamic Republic and world powers over suspicions about its nuclear intentions was resolved.
Iran says it wants to produce nuclear fuel only for electricity so it can export more oil.
However, the United Nations has imposed three sets of sanctions on Tehran for hiding the work from the IAEA until 2003, failing to prove to inspectors since then that it is wholly peaceful and refusing to suspend the program.
"They are basically making some centrifuges of the old type, the P-1 centrifuges that have already been there. The rate of progress on that has not been very fast," ElBaradei told a news conference during a visit to Berlin.
"I think they had 3,000 centrifuges in the past and now they have 3,300 or 3,400 so they are not moving very fast.
"I continue to call on Iran not to speed the process because we first need to have an agreement before Iran moves forward with its enrichment program."
Iran said last week it had installed almost 500 more centrifuges at Natanz under plans to bring a further 6,000 on line.
Tehran said it was testing an advanced centrifuge, which analysts say could refine uranium two or three times faster than the temperamental P-1 in Natanz's pilot wing.
Diplomats monitoring Iran's program told Reuters on April 3 that Iran had brought some advanced centrifuges into the main plant, although none were yet running.
Iran has yet to show it can run thousands of centrifuges in unison at high speed for long periods, the key to enriching significant quantities of uranium as fuel for power plants or atomic bombs, depending on the configuration of the machines.
The cylindrical devices spin compounds of uranium at supersonic speed to separate out and concentrate the most fissile isotope of the element for use as nuclear fuel.
Iran launched 3,000 centrifuges, a basis for industrial scale enrichment, in the subterranean Natanz hall last year.
Analysts believe Iran aims gradually to replace its start-up P-1 centrifuge with a new generation it adapted from a P-2 design, obtained via black markets from the West.
ElBaradei, in Berlin for a conference of 32 countries discussing ideas for a multilateral nuclear fuel production site, said he hoped to be able to make concrete proposals by the end of 2008 on the ambitious undertaking.
"We would like to have an IAEA-manned (fuel) bank of last resort," ElBaradei said. He added that $150 million was needed to start the bank and that $105 million had been pledged so far.
"So hopefully within the year, once we get the resources, we would then go to the IAEA (board of governors) to look into precisely the legal and political requirements."