Monday, June 14, 2010

Iran to begin work on new nuclear facility by early next year, official says

Iran's nuclear chief says his country will begin construction of a new uranium enrichment plant by March of next year, a defiant announcement days after the UN approved tougher sanctions.

Ali Akbar Salehi is quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying construction will start by the end of the Iranian calendar year in March.

Iran's government has approved plans for 10 new enrichment facilities that can process uranium gas into fuel for nuclear power plants. The U.S. and other nations fear Iran's expansion of the technology because it can also be used to make material for nuclear warheads. Iran denies such an aim.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday passed a fourth sanctions resolution meant to curtail Iran's nuclear activity.

Late last year, the Iranian government approved a plan to construct 10 new uranium enrichment plants, just two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to rebuke the Islamic Republic for building an enrichment plant in secret.

The new enrichment plants would be the same size as its main enrichment complex at Natanz, state broadcaster IRIB reported.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran should aim to produce 250-300 tons of nuclear fuel a year, it added.

Iran has one industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant near Natanz, in central Iran. The IAEA said earlier this month that about 8,600 centrifuges had been set up in Natanz, but only about 4,000 were enriching uranium. The facility will eventually house 54,000 centrifuges.

The White House had said in response to Iran's statement that the announcement of plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants would be a serious violation of its international obligations and further evidence of Tehran's isolation.

"If true, this would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

"Time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear program."