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By Samuel R. Avro on Nov 26, 2008 with no responses

Iran Says It Now Runs More Than 5,000 Centrifuges

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Iran now has more than 5,000 centrifuges operating and enriching uranium at the country’s central plant, its nuclear chief said Wednesday, in the country’s latest defiance of U.N. demands to halt its controversial program.

Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said Iran will continue to install centrifuges and enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel for the country’s future nuclear power plants. The number of centrifuges is up sharply from the 4,000 Iran said were running in August at the plant in the central Iranian city of Natanz.

Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce nuclear fuel. Further enrichment makes it suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the claim and insists it has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce reactor fuel.

“At this point, more than 5,000 centrifuges are operating in Natanz and enriching uranium,” said Aghazadeh, who is head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. He spoke to reporters during an exhibition of Iranian nuclear achievements at Tehran University.

The United Nations Security Council has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to freeze the uranium enrichment program.

Flaunting Iran’s defiance, Aghazadeh said the country will never suspend enrichment. “Suspension has not been defined in our lexicon,” he added.

During the enrichment process, uranium gas is spun in a series of centrifuges known as “cascades” to purify it. Lower levels of enrichment produce reactor fuel but higher grades can build a weapon.

At the exhibition, Iran for the first time put on public display one of its P-1 centrifuges and officials at the exhibition explained various parts of machine to visitors.

The P-1 centrifuge is the workhorse of Iran’s enrichment program. It’s run in cascades of 164 machines.

In February, Iranian officials confirmed that they have started using the IR-2 centrifuge, which can churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate of P-1.

Iran has said it plans to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment that will ultimately involve 54,000 centrifuges.

In its latest report on Iran last month, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Tehran had not significantly expanded full or partial operation of nearly 4,000 centrifuges at its cavernous underground facility at Natanz, a city about 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the Islamic Republic was installing, or preparing to install, thousands more of the machines that spin uranium gas to enrich it — with the target of 9,000 centrifuges by next year.

Article continues… AP