Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Tehran installs 328 centrifuges, prepares for test runs

GROUNDWORK European diplomats said that the two cascades of 164 centrifuges each would be the vanguard of 3,000 that Iran plans to install in the coming months

AGENCIES , VIENNA

Iran has installed two cascades of 164 centrifuges each in its underground nuclear plant, laying a basis for full-scale enrichment of uranium and upping the stakes in a standoff with the West, European diplomats said yesterday.

The cascades were to be test-run shortly, without uranium feedstock inside, and fuel material would then be added if the tests were successful, they said.

The 328 centrifuges would be the vanguard of 3,000 planned for installation in the coming months.

Tehran recently finished installing piping, electrical cables and other equipment needed to begin "industrial-scale" enrichment in the vast subterranean complex, which is fortified and ringed by anti-aircraft guns in the central Iranian desert.

Firing up the cascades would dramatically sharpen Iran's confrontation with Western powers that pushed through limited UN sanctions on Tehran six weeks ago to try to curb what they suspect is a disguised effort to assemble atomic bombs.

The Islamic Republic, the world's No. 4 oil producer, says it wants solely civilian atomic energy from uranium enrichment.

Diplomats said the installation of the first two cascades was likely to be the gist of Iran's planned announcement of "significant" nuclear progress on Sunday, when it caps anniversary celebrations of its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"Two cascades have been installed in the underground plant, but they are not yet being run with gas," said a EU diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has inspectors at Natanz.

"Their plan is to start dry-spinning the cascades within days and then start feeding them with UF6 [uranium feedstock gas]," the diplomat said, alluding to findings during recent visits by IAEA inspectors.

"The Iranians appear to intend to have about six cascades [about 1,000 centrifuges] installed by the spring, and the rest of the 3,000 by around June," the diplomat said.

Iran plans to rig up a total of 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz in the longer term.

A diplomat from another EU state gave an identical account.

Diplomats also said that the US and other Western nations want considerable cuts in the UN nuclear agency's aid to Iran but face stiff opposition from non-aligned states.

Developing nations "worry that what happens to Iran could be a precedent for the future" of their own aid programs, a non-aligned diplomat at the IAEA said.

The diplomat was speaking ahead of a report expected this week from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on how much technical aid the agency would continue to supply Iran.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is to meet on the issue starting on March 5.

also see story:

Iran attack could be disastrous: report

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