An Iranian opposition group in France said on Thursday that Iran had built at least 15 advanced uranium enrichment machines that could speed production of nuclear fuel and asserted that the country would have many more by next year.
The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has been correct before. In August 2002, its announcement that Tehran was pursuing a secret uranium enrichment program played a part in leading to the current standoff over the Iranian nuclear development program. But many of the group's subsequent disclosures have been either less significant or wrong.
Iran faces possible UN sanctions if it fails to stop enriching uranium by Aug. 31. Iran says it will use the nuclear fuel to generate power, but the international community fears that the program is designed to provide fuel for nuclear weapons.
The National Council of Resistance is the political wing of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, which has the goal of overthrowing the the present government by force. The council said on Thursday that Tehran was making advanced P-2 centrifuges at a secret site run by the "Iran Centrifuge Technology Company."
Iran has already been enriching uranium with slower P-1 centrifuges, made from an older design.
A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN unit that has tried to monitor Iran's program, said it could not comment on the report.
But he said there had been longstanding concern that Iran was developing the more advanced centrifuge.
The agency has repeatedly asked Iran for information, but Iran has insisted that it abandoned work on the P-2 centrifuge three years ago.
Then in April, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran was "presently conducting research" on the P-2 and boasted that it would quadruple Iran's enrichment powers.
The agency subsequently wrote to the Iranians demanding an explanation. They have not replied.
The opposition group said on Thursday that an enrichment expert named Jafar Mohammadi was head of the centrifuge manufacturer located in Tehran.
"According to the information obtained by the Iranian Resistance, at least 15 P-2 centrifuges have been assembled so far and are being tested," Mohammad Mohaddessin, a spokesman for the opposition group, told a news conference in France.