An earlier version of this story indicated a decision had been made on the next enrichment plant. This was based on ILNA reports of 19 April, which were contradicted by reports the next day as indicated below.
Iranian officials are close to approving work on another uranium enrichment plant, according to reports from state media. Statements are the latest in a six-month escalation ahead of possible sanctions.
A 20 April report from the Iranian Labour News Agency (INLA) quoted 'top aide' to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mujtaba Samareh Hashemi, as saying the sites for new plants have been decided 'and the process of building these centres continues.' However, another report based on an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, appeared the next day to play down the earlier story.
Salahi said that studies were ongoing into siting new facilities and design work would start after permission comes from Ahmadinejad. The next enrichment plant would be the first of the ten that Iran announced in November last year, to be sited in the 'hearts of mountains... In a safe place that cannot be threatened by any kind of attack.'
|President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks in Teheran last week
The move comes after the revelation of an underground facility near Qom, which had not been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before being built. Two enrichment plants at Natanz, 80 kilometers southeast of Qom, are already under close IAEA supervision.
Observers in other countries are worried that a number of small enrichment plants could enable Iran to bring uranium to weapons-usable levels quickly should it decide to. Withdrawal from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would mean this could occur out of sight.
A Teheran conference last week, organised in response to the US-led Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, saw Iran take the opportunity to question the non-proliferation regime.
Ahmadinejad's speech complained about the effect of 'a number of expansionist and domineering governments' that have achieved a 'one sided and biased use of the UN Security Council and the IAEA.' Only two countries were mentioned by name: Israel and the USA.
As a non-signatory to the NPT, the outside world has no legal means to investigate into Israel's nuclear affairs, widely taken to include a significant nuclear arsenal. Amhadinejad wondered, 'Doesn't this policy encourage others to leave the IAEA and suspend their obligations within relevant treaties?'
He had already noted, 'The manufacture of nuclear weapons by a single country, by itself, provides the best pretext for developing these weapons by other parties.
The saga of the Iranian nuclear program has run since 2003 when activity to build the first plant at Natanz was disclosed by a political group. Iran acted to quickly come back in line with requirements and since then has slowly and steadily built up capabilities in uranium enrichment while ignoring requests to stop the practice. It maintains that enrichment is to help supply fuel to its forthcoming Bushehr nuclear power plant, although this will use supplies from Russia.
Iran considers that it does not need to tell the IAEA about new facilities until nuclear materials are present, but it is referring to an old version of its safeguards agreement. A recent revision concluded between Iran and the IAEA changed the requirement to notification as soon as a decision is taken to build. The country and agency are at odds over whether Iran can unilaterally amend its agreement by going back to a previous version.
The Western powers, primarily the USA but backed by France, Germany and the UK, are pushing for support from Russia and China for further Security Council sanctions on Iran. Last week's Nuclear Security Summit provided opportunities for bilateral meetings on this and US President Obama hopes for strong action from the Security Council within weeks.
Meanwhile, the plan to refuel a research reactor in Tehran is one current opportunity for negotiation, which Iranian leaders have said remains open. The deal offered to Iran means taking a large part of its low-enriched uranium stockpile from the country, perhaps via Turkey, for further enrichment and manufacture in Russia and France. Iran instead requested a simultaneous swap of finished fuel for the equivalent stocks of its own, and, this being rejected, has begun working towards 20% levels of enrichment, increasing concerns about potential for quick enrichment to weapons levels.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News