U.N. aide disputes claims by Iran
The head of the nuclear agency says only several hundred centrifuges now run.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 13, 2007
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Thursday that Iran is operating only several hundred centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, despite its claims to have activated 3,000.
Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran's nuclear program was a concern, but he discounted Tehran's claims of a major advance in uranium enrichment, a process the United Nations demands Iran suspend or else be hit by increasing sanctions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Monday that the Natanz facility had begun "industrial-scale" production of nuclear fuel. Iran's top nuclear negotiator said workers had begun injecting uranium gas into 3,000 centrifuges, many more than the 328 centrifuges known to be operating at Natanz.
Experts say that 3,000 centrifuges would be enough in theory to develop a nuclear warhead in about a year, but they doubt Iran really had that many devices successfully running.
ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said, "Iran is still just at the beginning stages in setting up its Natanz enrichment facility."
Iran aims to operate more than 50,000 of the devices at the site.
"The talk of building a facility with 50,000 centrifuges is just at the beginning, and it is (currently) only in the hundreds," ElBaradei told reporters in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Diplomats in Vienna familiar with IAEA efforts also gave a much lower figure for the centrifuges. They told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that Iran was running only about 650 centrifuges. They said the machines were running empty, with none producing enriched uranium.
IAEA inspectors visited Natanz a week ago.
Iran says its program aims only to generate electricity, denying U.S. accusations it is developing nuclear weapons.
Iran's announcement this week was a strong show of defiance to the United Nations, which has imposed sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment and has warned of more to come.
[Last modified April 13, 2007, 01:45:47]
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