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Iran announces nascent nuclear enrichment plant

Posted by seumasach on September 25, 2009


25th September, 2009

In line with its guarantee to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for clarity on its nuclear activities, Iran has informed the agency that it is constructing a second plant for uranium enrichment.

“I can confirm that on 21 September, Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country,” agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire said Friday.

According to the spokesman, the letter underlined that the enrichment level in the plant would only be up to 5 percent.

The UN nuclear watchdog in its previous reports had confirmed that Iran — in its first enrichment facility in Natanz — only managed to enrich uranium-235 to a level “less than 5 percent.”

Uranium, the fuel for a nuclear power plant, can be used for military purposes only if enriched to high levels of above 90 percent.

“Iran has assured the agency in the letter that further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time,” Vidricaire added.

In reaction, the IAEA has requested that the Tehran government provide detailed information and access to the new nuclear facility as soon as possible.

“This installation is not a secret one, which is why we announced its existence to the IAEA,” Ali-Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, told AFP.

IAEA Safeguards Agreements originally declared that Iran is only obliged to inform the UN nuclear watchdog of the existence of enrichment plants 180 days before the introduction of nuclear materials into the facility.

However, after the establishment of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant stricter safeguards were introduced. Tehran is now obliged to inform the IAEA of the existence and plans for nuclear plants when construction has begun.

While the disclosure has already heightened Western fears about Iranian nuclear activities, the IAEA conceded that Iran has not yet begun any action at the plant.

Vidricaire said providing access to the plant “will allow us to assess safeguard verification requirements for the facility, but we understand that no nuclear material has been introduced as yet.”

The nascent nuclear facility, which according to Western officials is located near the holy city of Qom in central Iran, is believed to be capable of housing about 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, the New York Times reported.

Iran’s uranium enrichment has been the focus of protracted international debates over the country’s nuclear program and is what the world fears might lead to producing bomb-grade material to use for military purposes.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, gives the country the right to the full nuclear fuel cycle if used for peaceful purposes.

Tehran has denied seeking nuclear weapons and called for the removal of all weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

The country, however, is under three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions for its enrichment work; tougher sanctions are likely to be considered against the country should much-awaited talks in October fail to be fruitful.

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