Connect to share and comment
Iran has begun installing next-generation equipment at one of its main nuclear plants, a new UN atomic agency report said Thursday, five days before talks with world powers.
"On 6 February 2013, the Agency observed that Iran had started the installation of IR-2m centrifuges" at the Natanz plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency report said.
"This is the first time that centrifuges more advanced than the IR-1 have been installed" at the plant in central Iran, it said.
One official said that Iran intended to install around 3,000 of the new centrifuges at Natanz -- where around 12,500 of the older models are installed -- enabling it to speed up the enrichment of uranium.
This process is at the heart of the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, since enriched uranium -- at high levels -- can be used in a nuclear weapon.
The quarterly report seen by AFP also said however that Iran has not started operating any new equipment at its Fordo plant.
Fordo is of more concern to the international community than Natanz, since Fordo is used to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 percent and Natanz mostly to five percent.
The ability to enrich to 20 percent is technically speaking considerably closer to 90 percent, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.
The new report said that Iran has so far produced 280 kilos (617 pounds) of 20-percent uranium, of which around 110 kilos have been diverted to fuel production.
Experts say that around 250 kilos are needed for one bomb, although creating a weapon requires several other steps and if Iran were to start further enriching to weapons-grade this would be detected by the IAEA.
Iran denies seeking atomic weapons but many in the international community suspect otherwise, and the UN Security Council has passed several resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment.
The report came ahead of a new meeting between Iran and six world powers -- the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- in Kazakhstan on February 26.
These talks between the P5+1 and Iran will be the first since June, when three rounds of meetings last year ended in stalemate in Moscow.
The six called on Iran to suspend all 20-percent enrichment, shut down Fordo and export its 20-percent stockpile.
But they stopped short of offering Tehran substantial relief from UN Security Council and unilateral Western sanctions that last year began to cause major economic problems for the Persian Gulf country.
A Western diplomat said Wednesday that the P5+1 would come to the Almaty gathering with an offer containing "significant new elements".
Reports have said that the powers could ease sanctions on Iran's trade in gold and other precious metals.
Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out bombing Iran.
Parallel efforts by the IAEA dating back more than a year to press Iran to grant it access to sites, documents and scientists involved in what the agency suspects were past efforts to develop nuclear weapons remain stalled.
The new report said that "although the (IAEA) board has adopted two resolutions addressing the urgent need to resolve outstanding issues regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions, it has not been possible to finalise the structured approach document or begin substantive work in this regard."
It added however that the Vienna-based IAEA's "commitment to continued dialogue is unwavering".
It said that Iran "has not fully implemented its binding obligations" and that this was "needed to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme."