Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Iran’s Enrichment Breakthrough Questioned

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said today that Russia does not believe Iran has made any technological breakthrough to allow it to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani had said yesterday that Iran had indeed built 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz, a minimum number needed to start enriching uranium at industrial scale. This is the assertion that the Russians are questioning. They said that they doubt if Iran could inject uranium gas (UF6) into a 3,000-centrifuge facility that is still under construction. President Ahmadinejad had called yesterday a national day of celebration for the breakthrough.

In the enrichment process, UF6 is pumped into centrifuges, which spin and purify the gas. Enriched (or purified) to a lower degree, the result is fuel for a reactor, but to a higher degree it creates the material for a nuclear warhead. 3,000 centrifuges would be enough to build one nuclear warhead within a year. Iran has so far been able to run two small cascades of 164 centrifuges.

The Western nuclear proliferation experts have not been able to verify Iran’s new capabilities. They are not sure if the frenetic activity at Natanz during the past few months is real, a bluff or a little of both. This morning two UN inspectors arrived in Iran to visit the uranium enrichment complex. The Western experts are awaiting their report.

Ahmadinejad has also set a goal of building 60,000 operational centrifuges at Natanz.

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