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Nuclear gains by Iran raise new concerns

Iran is poised to make a significant leap in its ability to enrich uranium, with more sophisticated centrifuge technology that is being assembled in secret to advance the country’s nuclear efforts, according to US and European intelligence officials and diplomats.

world Updated: May 03, 2010 01:24 IST
Joby Warrick

Iran is poised to make a significant leap in its ability to enrich uranium, with more sophisticated centrifuge technology that is being assembled in secret to advance the country’s nuclear efforts, according to US and European intelligence officials and diplomats.

Iran’s apparent gains in centrifuge technology have heightened concerns that the government is working clandestinely on a uranium-enrichment plant capable of producing more nuclear fuel at a much faster pace, the officials said.

UN nuclear monitors have not been allowed to examine the new centrifuge, which Iranian officials briefly put on display at a news conference this month. But an expert group’s analysis of the new machine — based on photos — suggests that it could be up to five times more productive than the balky centrifuges Iran currently uses.

Assuming the country has so far produced only prototypes of the centrifuge, it will probably take it another two years, or more, to assemble enough machines to make enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. After that, though, Iran would be in a position to ramp up production dramatically, depending on how many machines it decides to install.

Using its existing centrifuges, Iran has made more than two tons of low-enriched uranium, an amount that officials say could be further enriched to produce enough weapons-grade material for a single nuclear bomb, even as the government insists that its nuclear program is exclusively for energy production.

Iran’s progress on a new centrifuge coincides with a marked decline in activity at its two known uranium-enrichment plants, sources said, spurring speculation that it plans to use the centrifuge at a still-unknown facility.

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