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Iran Plans to Build 10 New Uranium Enrichment Plants

State-run media say the government plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants similar to the country's main enrichment facility in Natanz.

Elizabeth Arrott

Iran's government says it plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants, upping the stakes in its tense standoff with international powers over its nuclear program. 

Iranian media reported Sunday that the Cabinet approved the construction of 10 new uranium enrichment plants just two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency censured Iran for its nuclear activities.

The proposed facilities, reported to be similar to Iran's main nuclear plant at Natanz, would vastly increase the nation's capacity to produce enriched uranium.  Iranian media quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran should get to the point where it can produce 250 to 300 tons of nuclear fuel each year.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the new Iranian-designed centrifuges used to enrich uranium will have higher speeds than those currently being used.  He added that Iran "is not joking around with anyone" when it comes to defending its nuclear rights.

The announcement seems to make good on a warning earlier in the day that pressure on Iran would force it to reduce its cooperation with the IAEA.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said western pressure may force parliament to review the country's stance toward the U.N. nuclear agency. 

The five-plus-one group of nations working on the Iran nuclear issue - the U.S., France Britain, Russia, China and Germany - all voted Friday for the IAEA censure of Iran for defying international demands to freeze uranium enrichment and for secretly building a nuclear facility.

The rare moment of anti-Iranian solidarity appeared to take many officials in Tehran by surprise.  China and Russia's past reluctance to come down hard on Tehran, guided in part by extensive business deals, had been seen as protection against further international sanctions.

The tensions coincide with problems over an IAEA proposal to send Iran's uranium abroad for enrichment, part of a plan to ease Western concerns Tehran might be pursuing nuclear weapons.  Iran denies the charge, and has offered counterproposals to the deal, none to the liking of the IAEA. 

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