Iran to Triple Higher-Enriched Uranium Production

Posted June 8th, 2011 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The head of Iran's atomic energy agency has announced plans to triple the country's output of higher-grade uranium while also moving production of the nuclear fuel to an underground site that was secret until 2009.

Fereydoon Abbasi said Wednesday that Tehran will transfer production of 20 percent-enriched uranium from its Natanz nuclear site to the Fordo facility near the city of Qom later this year under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran's nuclear chief was also quoted by the Fars news agency as saying Tehran would soon install more advanced centrifuges, suitable for higher-grade uranium enrichment, at the Fordo site.

Iran only revealed the existence of the facility – a mountain bunker – in 2009, after Western intelligence agencies detected it and said it was evidence of covert nuclear work.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor called Iran's decision “provocative,” saying it would involve stockpiling even more higher grade uranium “without a credible use for this material in the near term.”

France also labeled the move a “provocation” and the European Union noted the announcement with concern, saying Iran was “further exacerbating its defiance” of the U.N. Security Council.

Western nations have imposed a series of sanctions on Iran in an attempt to force it to halt enrichment, a process that can make weapons-grade material if done at a much higher level.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and says it is enriching uranium for electricity production and medical applications.

But its decision last year to raise the level of enrichment from the 3.5 percent purity needed for normal power plant fuel to 20 percent worried countries that see it as a significant step towards the 90-percent purity level needed for bombs.

Wednesday's announcement comes a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected an IAEA report that said Tehran may have carried out nuclear work with possible military purposes.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the report “lacks legal credibility” and that comments made by the chief of the U.N. watchdog agency would have no bearing on Iran's nuclear activities.