Iran opens new nuclear fa­cil­ity for cen­trifuge pro­duc­tion

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

IRAN’S nuclear chief on Wed­nes­day in­au­gu­rated the Is­lamic Repub­lic’s new nuclear en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity that is geared to­ward pro­duc­ing cen­trifuges which will op­er­ate within the lim­its of the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world pow­ers.

Ira­nian state tele­vi­sion broad­cast an in­ter­view with Ali Ak­bar Salehi af­ter night­fall, show­cas­ing the fa­cil­ity at Natanz’s ura­nium en­rich­ment cen­ter.

In the in­ter­view, Salehi said the fa­cil­ity’s con­struc­tion be­gan even be­fore the 2015 deal was signed and that he hopes the first cen­trifuges — known as old-gen­er­a­tion cen­trifuges — will roll out in a month’s time.

In a ges­ture likely di­rected at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s with­drawal from the deal, Iran on Tues­day in­formed the UN nuclear watch­dog that it will in­crease its nuclear en­rich­ment ca­pac­ity, yet stay within the pro­vi­sions of the ac­cord.

The land­mark agree­ment, which lifted crip­pling eco­nomic sanc­tions in ex­change for Tehran lim­it­ing its ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram, has been fac­ing its great­est diplo­matic chal­lenges in the wake of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull Amer­ica out of it.

Euro­pean na­tions and oth­ers in­volved in the ac­cord are now try­ing to sal­vage it, and many com­pa­nies that rushed to make bil­lion-dol­lar deals with Iran now are back­ing out for fear of be­ing tar­geted by US sanc­tions.

Natanz, some 250 kilo­me­ters (155 miles) south of the cap­i­tal, Tehran, in­cludes un­der­ground fa­cil­i­ties pro­tected by some 7.6 me­ters (25 feet) of con­crete, which of­fer pro­tec­tion from airstrikes.

Salehi’s choice of Natanz to of­fer his speech came as no sur­prise.

The fa­cil­ity long has been a point of con­tention be­tween Iran and the West since its public dis­clo­sure by an Ira­nian ex­ile group in 2002. While Tehran long has main­tained its nuclear pro­gram is for peace­ful pur­poses, West­ern na­tions have feared Natanz rep­re­sented a means for Iran to en­rich enough ura­nium to pro­duce atomic weapons.

The Stuxnet com­puter virus, widely be­lieved to be an Amer­i­can and Is­raeli cre­ation, caused thou­sands of cen­trifuges at Natanz to spin them­selves to de­struc­tion at the height of the West’s fears over Iran’s pro­gram.

Un­der the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to store its ex­cess cen­trifuges at Natanz un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance by the UN nuclear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency. Iran can use 5,060 ol­d­er­model cen­trifuges at Natanz, but only to en­rich ura­nium up to 3.67 per­cent. Natanz was de­signed to have as many as 50,000 cen­trifuges op­er­at­ing there.

In Wed­nes­day’s in­ter­view, Salehi said mass-pro­duc­tion for new-gen­er­a­tion cen­trifuges will take years to be fully op­er­a­tional. “Ev­ery new gen­er­a­tion of cen­trifuges needs eight to 10 years for test­ing,” he said.

That low-level en­rich­ment means the ura­nium can be used to fuel a civil­ian re­ac­tor but is far be­low the 90 per­cent needed to pro­duce a weapon. Iran also can pos­sess no more than 300 kilo­grams (660 pounds) of that ura­nium. That’s com­pared to the 100,000 kilo­grams (220,460 pounds) of high­eren­riched ura­nium it once had.

Iran also this week told the IAEA it had a “ten­ta­tive sched­ule to start pro­duc­tion of UF6,” or ura­nium hex­aflu­o­ride. Ura­nium hex­aflu­o­ride gas is spun by cen­trifuges to make en­riched ura­nium that can be used in nuclear weapons and atomic re­ac­tor fuel. That work is also res­trained un­der the nuclear deal.

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Ira­nian am­bas­sador to the IAEA Reza Na­jafi told jour­nal­ists in Vienna that Iran had given Euro­pean na­tions “a few weeks” to come up with ways to pro­tect the deal from Amer­ica’s pull­out.

“These are the prepara­tory works for a pos­si­ble sce­nario if in an un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion the (nuclear deal) fails then Iran can restart its ac­tiv­i­ties with­out any lim­its,” Na­jafi said.

“What I can say is right now, the ne­go­ti­a­tions at the ex­pert level are con­tin­u­ing and we hope that it could reach some con­clu­sion,” he added. “Un­til then, we con­tinue to ex­er­cise the most re­straint but it is not (an) end­less process.”

French For­eign Min­is­ter Jeanyves Le Drian warned Iran against restart­ing higher en­rich­ment of ura­nium.

“It is al­ways dan­ger­ous to flirt with the red lines,” he said. – AP

– AP

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