Days before the start of Almaty Talk, Iran appears to be sending mixed signals on its nuclear program, speeding up production of enriched uranium while also converting part of its 20-percent enriched uranium into metal fuel plates for use in a civilian research reactor, rendering the material all but useless for weapons purposes, the Washington Post reported today.
On production side, Iran has begun installing the new IR2m centrifuges at Natanz enrichment facility. The new machines work approximately 4 times faster than the older IR1 machines, doubling the capacity to produce enriched uranium at Natanz.
The installation of IR2m centrifuges prompted Israel to issue a warning that Iran is “closer than ever” to the ability to build a nuclear bomb. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement released today that the Iranian move “proves Iran is continuing to rapidly advance to the red line that the prime minister drew at his speech in the United Nations… Iran is closer than ever today to obtaining enriched material for a nuclear bomb.” (AFP, 21 February)
But meanwhile, IAEA inspectors who visited Iran last month reported that Iran is deliberately capping its 20-percent enriched uranium stockpile by converting some of the enriched uranium into metal fuel plates. Iran has so far kept its stockpile of this form of uranium below 550 pounds, the amount that would be needed in theory to make a single nuclear bomb.
In another possible sign of deliberate slowing, IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iran still has not begun operating hundreds of centrifuges installed recently at its Fordo uranium enrichment plant, the Washington Post reported.
On Tuesday, Iranian officials are scheduled to begin negotiations in Almaty with the six world powers on the country’s nuclear program. France said today that P5+1 diplomats were preparing a “substantial” new offer to Iran.
“We want a genuine exchange that will lead to concrete results,” said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris. (AFP, 21 February)
File photo: Uranium enriching centrifuges