TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran plans to triple its capacity to purify uranium later this year when it transfers the work from the central city of Natanz to the Fordo site, the country’s nuclear chief said on Wednesday.
The announcement brought immediate condemnation from France which termed Iran’s plans a “provocation”, and accused Tehran of repeated violations of international law.
“We will transfer the 20 percent enrichment from Natanz to the Fordo site this year, under the supervision of the (International Atomic Energy) Agency,” Iran’s atomic chief Fereydoon Abbasi Davani was quoted as saying by state television’s website.
“We will also triple the (production) capacity. The 20 percent enrichment will not be stopped at Natanz until the production level is three times higher than its current rate,” he said.
All of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities are currently undertaken in the central city of Natanz. Fordo is located near the holy Shiite city of Qom, about 150 kilometres (94 miles) southwest of Tehran.
Revelations in 2009 about the construction of the Fordo plant infuriated the West and prompted the United Nations to strengthen sanctions against Tehran.
Iran informed the UN nuclear watchdog in February that the Fordo plant was prepared to host centrifuges — machines which enrich uranium at supersonic speed — and that it would become operational in the summer.
In April, Abbasi Davani said that Iran would continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity to fuel “four to five (research) reactors” which he said Iran plans to build in the near future.
The Islamic republic began to enrich uranium to 20 percent in February 2010, following the collapse of negotiations with the West over the acquisition of nuclear fuel for its research and medical reactor in Tehran.
On Wednesday, Abbasi Davani announced that Iran would produce its first batch of fuel plates for the Tehran reactor by September.
“With high probability, the nuclear fuel in the form of plates will be produced by September,” he said.
Western powers have repeatedly said Iran does not possess the technology to make the actual nuclear fuel plates required to power the 5-megawatt Tehran research reactor which makes medical isotopes.
World powers accuse Iran of seeking to acquire a nuclear military capacity under the guise of its civilian atomic programme, a charge Tehran strongly denies.
Their main objection is to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the fissile material for an atomic warhead.
Despite being targeted by four sets of sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, the Islamic republic is continuing with its controversial nuclear activities.
Abbasi Davani meanwhile announced “the forthcoming installation of the first cascade of 164 new-generation centrifuges”, which are more powerful and faster than the models Iran currently operates in Natanz.
Iran has over 8,000 centrifuges of the first generation IR-1, with nearly 6,000 actively purifuing uranium to the 3.5 percent level, according to the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog in May.