Iran has started up its own modified centrifuge at Natanz uranium enrichment plant, AP reported today. The new unit, named IR-2, is reportedly faster than the P-1 centrifuge already in operation.
The IR-2 centrifuges were being tested at Natanz. If the reports on IR-2 capabilities are confirmed, it would indicate that Iran is at a much higher stage of nuclear development that previously thought.
The IR-2 machines were reported to be a homemade version of the advanced P-2 centrifuge whose design Iran had obtained from Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.
The P-2 can enrich uranium gas up to three times faster than the P-1 but Iran until now had difficulty to import special steel rotors needed to build the machines. It appears that Iran has been successful to replace the steel rotors with rotor tubes made of carbon fiber.
AP quoted former UN nuclear inspector David Albright as saying that the ingenuity demonstrated by the Iranians was impressive.
“If you learn how to make carbon fiber rotors, you are very far ahead,” said Albright, an expert at Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. “They are much cheaper and easier to make, and you can learn to spin them very fast.”
It is estimated that it would take as few as 1,200 new machines to produce enough material for one nuclear weapon in a year as compared to 3,000 older P-1 machines to do the same job.