News / Middle East

Iran says Work Has Begun on New Nuclear Enrichment Plant

Top Iranian adviser says locations for other facilities have also been chosen

An advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Tehran has begun work on a new uranium enrichment plant.

The timing of the announcement came a day after the close of a much-touted conference on nuclear disarmament in Tehran.

The advisor, Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi, also said that locations for other facilities have been chosen.

Plans to build 10 new Iranian enrichment facilities were announced in November, amid doubts from Western observers that Tehran had the capabilities to fulfill those plans.  Tehran says it needs more highly enriched uranium for medical purposes.

Royal Military College of Canada Political Science Professor Houshang Hassan-yari says there have been several recent announcements about potential progress in Iran's nuclear program.

"If you look at what Mr. Salehi said about 10 days ago, in the heat of the fourth anniversary of nuclear progress in Iran, he mentioned a number of measures: one of them, for example, is that they are exploring a new uranium mine in the province of Yazd for enrichment.  The same kind of exploration is going on in Bandar Abbas in the south, and there they have a facility to create yellow cake to feed the Isfahan facilities.  They also are going to accelerate the facilities that were discovered last year in Qom for enrichment," Hassan-yari said.

He says Iran has shut down much of its independent press and blocked access to foreign news media.  For this reason, he says, such announcements, along with the weekend nuclear conference, "give a sense of importance to the government and show the Iranian public that Iran is not isolated."

Janes' Islamic Affairs analyst Alex Vatanka says the announcement about a new enrichment plant has more than domestic impact:

"I would not necessarily say that the timing here ties to domestic politics as much as it does to Iran's position on the international stage vis-à-vis the West and the United Nations.  I really think that what they [the Ahmadinejad government] are trying to underscore is that it has to be taken for granted that Iran can enrich uranium on its soil, regardless of what decisions are going to be made as part of finding a resolution to the nuclear standoff," Vatanka said.

Vatanka says he thinks Iranian leaders are miscalculating their strategy on nuclear enrichment because the problem is not simply about enriching uranium, but about "a lack of confidence with Iran's motivations in enriching that uranium."

Iran has repeatedly insisted it is enriching uranium for peaceful civilian purposes, but the West suspects that it is attempting to build nuclear weapons.

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