Iran steps up nuclear and space program raising tensions in the West

November 26, 2008

TEHRAN (ChattahBox) – In the country’s latest defiance of U.N. demands to halt its controversial program, Iran now has more than 5,000 centrifuges operating and enriching uranium at the country’s central plant, its nuclear chief said Wednesday. Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce nuclear fuel. Further enrichment makes it suitable for use in nuclear weapons. At an exhibition, Iran for the first time put on public display one of its P-1 centrifuges and officials at the exhibition explained various parts of machine to visitors.

Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said Iran will continue to install centrifuges and enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel for the country’s future nuclear power plants. The number of centrifuges is up sharply from the 4,000 Iran said were running in August at the plant in the central Iranian city of Natanz. Flaunting Iran’s defiance, Aghazadeh said the country will never suspend enrichment. “Suspension has not been defined in our lexicon,” he added.

Tehran denies seeking to build nuclear weapons and insists it has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce reactor fuel. The United Nations Security Council has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to freeze the uranium enrichment program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the Islamic Republic was installing, or preparing to install, thousands more of the machines that spin uranium gas to enrich it — with the target of 9,000 centrifuges by next year. Iran has said it plans to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment that will ultimately involve 54,000 centrifuges. IAEA officials could not be immediately reached for a comment on Aghazadeh’s claim Wednesday.

Aghazadeh said Iran has also made “good progress” in constructing a 40 Megawatt heavy-water reactor near Arak in central Iran. “The heavy water plant is experiencing a production beyond its capacity,” he said without elaborating. When it is finished, the Arak reactor could produce enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon each year, experts have said.

Aghazadeh also claimed Iran has conducted research on nuclear fusion — allegedly another one of its “priorities” — but didn’t provide more details on the research. “It started long ago,” he said.

Nuclear fusion is an energy producing process which naturally takes place in the sun and stars. Scientists have long sought a simple way to produce fusion in hopes of harnessing it as an energy source.

Also Wednesday, Iranian state television reported that the country successfully launched a second rocket into space, following up on the first such launch in February.

The rocket, entitled “Kavoshgar 2” or Explorer 2, made it to the lower reaches of space and returned to earth 40 minutes later on a parachute. It wasn’t clear when the launch took place.

Iran has long held the goal of developing a space program, generating unease among world leaders already concerned about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, that the West fears may form part of a bid to build missiles that could carry atomic warheads in future.


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