Ali Akbar Dareini – Associated Press November 30, 2009
Iran had no intention of building 10 new nuclear facilities until it was strongly rebuked by the U.N. nuclear watchdog over its nuclear activities, the country's nuclear chief said Monday.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi told state radio that Iran needed to give a strong response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's resolution Friday demanding that Iran halt to construction of its newly revealed uranium enrichment facility and end all other enrichment activities.
Any new enrichment plants would take years to build and stock with centrifuges — if the material could even be obtained under U.N. sanctions — but the ambitious plans were a bold show by Iran that it won't back down amid a deadlock in negotiation attempts.
The U.S. and its allies fear the facilities give Iran the capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material and have called for an immediate halt to the enrichment of uranium.
Iran has rejected such claims, saying its uranium enrichment facilities will only produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
The Cabinet ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin building new facilities at five sites that have already been studied and propose five other locations for future construction within two months.
The new sites are to be on the same scale of Iran's only other industrial enrichment plant currently in operation, near the town of Natanz in central Iran.
"We had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site, but apparently the West doesn't want to understand Iran's peaceful message," Salehi said.
Salehi, who is also the head of Iran's nuclear program, said the IAEA resolution backed by six world powers left no option for Iran but to give a firm response.
"The action by 5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany) at the IAEA prompted the (Iranian) government to approve a proposal to build 10 sites like that of Natanz," he said.
On Sunday, Salehi said Iran would build its new sites inside mountains to protect it from possible attack because Iran has decided not to let its nuclear activities stop "even for a moment."
Iran aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. Iranian officials say the new enrichment facilities are needed to produce enough fuel for its future nuclear power plants.
Ahmadinejad told the Cabinet that Iran will need to install 500,000 centrifuges at the planned facilities to produce between 250 to 300 tons of fuel annually.
"We require multiple sites to produce nuclear fuel for us. We need at least ten new sites," Ahmadinejad said in comments broadcast on state TV Monday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this month that about 8,600 centrifuges had been set up in Natanz, but only about 4,000 were enriching uranium. The facility is designed to eventually house 54,000 centrifuges.
But Iran's newly revealed enrichment site, which set off the latest cycle of concern and criticism over Tehran's nuclear intentions, is a small scale site near the holy city of Qom that will house 3,000 centrifuges.
The IAEA resolution came after Iran rejected a U.N.-backed plan to ship most of its stock of uranium abroad for further enrichment.
The UN-brokered plan required Iran to send 1.2 tons (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium — around 70 percent of its stockpile — to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, easing concerns the material would be used for a bomb.
After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material.
Iran had indicated that it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments. Should the talks fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad, Iran has threatened to enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor itself domestically.
Salehi said the Iranian Cabinet will discuss the issue Wednesday but didn't give any further details.
Last updated 02/12/2009