Iran is making significant progress in expanding its nuclear program, including in opening up a potential second route to developing the bomb, a new UN atomic agency report showed on Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) latest quarterly update said Tehran had accelerated the installation of advanced uranium enrichment equipment at its central Natanz plant.
It also outlined further progress at a reactor under construction at Arak, also in central Iran, which Western countries fear could provide Iran with plutonium if the fuel is reprocessed.
The US Department of State said the report was an “unfortunate milestone” marking a decade of Iran expanding its nuclear activities “in blatant violation of its international obligations.”
A US congressional panel backed tougher sanctions against Iran.
Highly enriched uranium and plutonium can both be used in a nuclear weapon. North Korea used plutonium in two tests in 2006 and 2009, while uranium was used in the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
The new IAEA report, seen by Agence France-Presse, said Iran has installed at Natanz almost 700 IR-2m centrifuges and/or empty centrifuge casings, compared with just 180 in February. However, none was operating.
Iran has said it intends to install about 3,000 of the new centrifuges at Natanz — where about 13,500 of the older models are in place — enabling it to speed up the enrichment of uranium.
The UN Security Council has passed numerous resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment and heavy water activities of the kind under development at Arak. It has imposed four rounds of sanctions.
Last year, additional unilateral US and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s oil exports and its financial system began to cause real problems for the Persian Gulf country’s economy.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, has refused to rule out military action against Iran, as has US President Barack Obama. Iran says that its atomic activities are peaceful.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the impasse, most recently in six-power talks with Iran in Kazakhstan last month, have failed to make concrete progress.