A confidential report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog the IAEA claims Iran has begun installing new generation centrifuge machines at Natanz.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said 180 so-called IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had been put in place at the facility.
They are not yet operating, but if launched successfully, such machines could enable Iran to speed up significantly its accumulation of nuclear material.
The activity at one of the country’s main nuclear plants signals Tehran is in defiant mood ahead of the resumption of talks over its nuclear programme, set to resume next week.
Washington has described the move, if confirmed, as “another provocative step”.
“We hope that the Iranian regime will make the strategic decision to come to the February 26 talks, with the P5+1 in Kazakhstan prepared to discuss substance so there can be progress in addressing the international community’s concerns about the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme,” said White House spokesman, Jay Carney.
The P5+1 is the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Spinning towards bombs?
Western powers fear Iran is seeking weapons technology as it speeds up its uranium enriching capacity. Tehran insists its objectives are for peaceful energy purposes.
Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s IR-1 model it now uses, but their introduction for full-scale production has been dogged by delays and technical hurdles, experts and diplomats say.
The deployment of the new IR-2m centrifuges underlines Iran’s continued refusal to bow to Western pressure to curb its nuclear programme.
Testing has also started of two new centrifuge types, the IR-6 and IR-6s, at a research and development facility, the IAEA report said. Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium.
Refined uranium can fuel nuclear energy plants, which is Iran’s stated aim, or provide the core of an atomic bomb, which the United States and Israel suspect may be its ultimate goal.