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.
Iran confirms new nuclear centrifuges
By NASSER KARIMI
Associated Press Writer
24 Feb 2008
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran said Sunday that it has started using new centrifuges that can churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate of the machines that now form the backbone of the Islamic nation's nuclear program.
The announcement was the first official confirmation by Tehran after diplomats with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog reported earlier this month that Iran was using 10 of the new IR-2 centrifuges.
"We are (now) running a new generation of centrifuges," the official IRNA news agency quoted Javad Vaidi, deputy of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying. No futher details were provided.
....The IAEA highlighted the "new-generation centrifuges" in its latest report on Iran released Friday, but did not provide details on their operation.
Earlier this month, diplomats accredited to the IAEA told The Associated Press that 10 IR-2 centrifuges had started processing small quantities of uranium hexafluoride gas in a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a weapon.
Ten centrifuges are too few to produce enriched uranium in the quantities needed for an industrial-scale energy or weapons program and far below the 3,000 older centrifuges in Iran's underground enrichment plant in the central town of Natanz.
Friday's IAEA report said many past questions about Iran's nuclear program had been resolved but highlighted Tehran's continued refusal to halt uranium enrichment, paving the way for another set of sanctions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday the report vindicated Iran and called on the U.S. and its allies to apologize for accusing Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons. He also warned that Tehran would take unspecified "decisive reciprocal measures" against any country that imposed additional sanctions against Iran.
Most of the material shown to Iran by the IAEA in its investigation of the nation's alleged attempts to make nuclear arms came from Washington, though some was provided by U.S. allies, diplomats told The Associated Press. The agency shared it with Tehran only after the nations gave their permission.
But Soltanieh [Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA] dismissed much of the material as false. In any case, he said, it came too late — three years after U.S. intelligence claimed it had material on a laptop computer smuggled out of Iran indicating that Tehran had been working on details of nuclear weapons. The data supposedly included missile trajectories and ideal altitudes for exploding warheads.
"They should have given it to us three years ago," Soltanieh said, suggesting Tehran would then have had a more substantive response.
Instead, he said, Iran did not get an offer for a review until mid-February. By that time, he said, the deadline for the conclusion of the IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear past had passed and experts were already working on the agency's report.
"All of a sudden, the Americans notice this thing is going to be closed," he said, referring to the investigation. Suddenly, he added, "they have additional and new documents — these dirty games should be stopped immediately."
The United States denied being at fault.
....Soltanieh also acknowledged that his country's uranium enrichment program was experiencing "ups and downs." It appeared to be the first Iran admitted its enrichment activities were running into some difficulties.
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