Iran Nuclear NewsIran making progress in uranium enrichment: diplomats

Iran making progress in uranium enrichment: diplomats

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AFP: Iran is now running a 10-centrifuge cascade in a step forward in enriching uranium as part of its nuclear program, diplomats told AFP Friday ahead of a crucial UN watchdog report next week. VIENNA, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) – Iran is now running a 10-centrifuge cascade in a step forward in enriching uranium as part of its nuclear program, diplomats told AFP Friday ahead of a crucial UN watchdog report next week.

The upcoming report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “will confirm that Iran is now running 10 centrifuges” in Natanz with a feedstock gas used to manufacture enriched uranium, a diplomat said.

Enriched uranium can be fuel for nuclear power reactors or the raw material for atom bombs.

The report will include an assessment on Iran’s nuclear program, which the IAEA is to forward to the UN Security Council after the agency’s governors meet here on March 6.

Iran earlier this month began small-scale uranium enrichment work, defying the IAEA’s call for it to suspend this activity.

Uranium enrichment is seen as a red line by the United States and European Union in the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, as it is the so-called “breakout capacity” for making atomic weapons.

Iran had started this month with single, stand-alone centrifuges but is now progressing, as shown by putting a series of cascades, the diplomats said.

Arranged in series, or cascades, that can number thousands, centrifuges spin uranium gas to distill out the U-235 isotope, whose quantity determines the level of enrichment.

A second diplomat, who like the first asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the 10-centrifuge cascade cannot enrich uranium very far, “maybe to one percent or slightly more,” far below the three to five percent needed for nuclear fuel and the over 90 percent preferred for atomic weapons.

Nor could it make large amounts, as even the 164-pilot cascade the Iranians want to start in Natanz would take years to make enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb.

Iran wants eventually to install over 50,000 centrifuges in Natanz for industrial-scale enrichment.

A Western diplomat told AFP: “If Iran is able to master the technology of uranium enrichment … it would be able to apply that technology to a covert program to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity and that it has a right under international law to enrich uranium.

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