AFP: Iran is about to run a 164-centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium, a step that would increase urgency for UN action on Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats told AFP Monday. VIENNA, March 20, 2006 (AFP) – Iran is about to run a 164-centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium, a step that would increase urgency for UN action on Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats told AFP Monday.
“Iran is on the verge of operating a 164-centrifuge cascade with UF6 (uranium hexafluoride gas),” a Western diplomat said, referring to machines arrayed in series, known as cascades, used to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors or material for the explosive core of an atom bomb.
A second diplomat, who as others asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Iran was set to go ahead with the cascade work and was doing some last-minute “piping connections.”
Iran in mid-February reversed its earlier suspension of enrichment work by putting the feedstock UF6 gas into single centrifuges at a facility in Natanz and has moved on to running a 10-centrifuge and now a 20-centrifuge cascade.
The next step would be a 164-centrifuge cascade, a research-level operation to learn about techniques used in running thousands of centrifuges.
The first diplomat said Iran’s rapid progress in uranium enrichment might come up when the five permament members of the UN Security Council plus Germany meet in New York on Monday.
The 15-member Council is considering issuing a statement calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment over fears the Islamic Republic is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
The diplomat said Iran’s move towards operating its 164-centrifuge cascade was “further evidence of the need for urgent UN Security Council action.”
“Iran is making faster progress at Natanz than expected,” the diplomat said.
Iran is seeking to run more than 50,000 centrifuges in Natanz, an operation that could potentially produce enough highly enriched uranium for up to a dozen atom bombs a year.
A third diplomat said Iran could run the 164-cascade “whenever they want,” adding: “Don’t underestimate the Iranians.”