International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz today checking the startup of production of highly-enriched uranium.
Iran says it has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent in 164 centrifuges, a laboratory rather than industrial scale of output for, it claims, research purposes in its reactor in Tehran.
The development has outraged those who fear Iran is set on producing nuclear bombs.
“If Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons it almost certainly will provoke nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. This is a huge danger,” said America’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates on a visit to his opposite number Hervé Morin in Paris.
It is the first step towards producing 90 percent, or weapons-grade, uranium. Experts doubt Iran has the technology to convert the enriched ore into fuel rods for peaceful use, and until now Iran has refused offers to have that process performed overseas, in Russia and France.
The news has led to renewed calls for tougher sanctions against Iran.