Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has been installing 3,000 new centrifuges at the country’s uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. There were already 3,000 centrifuges in operation at Natanz. Ahmadinejad made the announcement as he toured the Natanz facility today, proclaimed as the National Nuclear Day.
Ahmadinejad also said that later today he would announce “newer achievements in Iran’s nuclear program.” It is expected that the new development would be the installation at Natanz of 300 advanced IR-2 centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium up to three times faster than the current P-1 type machines.
Iran says it needs the new centrifuges to accelerate the production of nuclear fuel needed to run electricity-generating nuclear reactors. The problem with the argument is the fact that Iran does not have a single nuclear reactor in operation today. The Russians are completing the construction of the country’s first reactor at Bushehr. But the fuel needed for that reactor has already been supplied to Iran by the Russians. The construction and completion of any new nuclear reactor would take years, if not decades. Hence the argument that Iran would need so much enriched uranium today for the reactors to be built in distant future simply does not hold.
With 6,000 P-1 centrifuges installed and the advanced IR-2 machines being added to the inventory, Iran should be able to produce considerable amounts of enriched uranium in the coming months.
Iran can reprocess the enriched uranium at Natanz to produce highly-enriched uranium that can in turn be processed to produce uranium metal, the core of uranium-based nuclear weapons. IAEA has confronted Iran with questions on that very process. The agency has provided Iran with the intelligence showing that it was in possession of technical drawings for reprocessing highly-enriched uranium into uranium metal and of high explosion tests required in a nuclear weaponization program. Iran has so far refused to discuss the details with IAEA, only calling the reports “baseless.”
Today’s announcement of doubling the country’s uranium enrichment capabilities and adding the most advanced centrifuges to the inventory can only increase suspicions that Iran is getting ready to produce nuclear weapons.