December 11, 2007 / 2:58 PM / 12 years ago

Iran aims for 50,000 atomic centrifuges in 5 years

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran needs to install 50,000 centrifuges within five years so it can make enough fuel for one nuclear power plant, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

Iran’s uranium enrichment plans are the part of Tehran’s nuclear program that most worries the West because the process can be used to make both fuel for nuclear power plants or, if desired, material for warheads.

Ahmadinejad told a news conference 50,000 centrifuges — roughly the figure Iran has stated is its goal — were enough to make fuel for one plant in a year.

“We have to install centrifuges with the same speed (as building nuclear power plants) so that in five years we would be able to produce fuel for one nuclear power plant,” he said. He mentioned “four or five years” elsewhere in his remarks.

“We will take this path. We think there are no major obstacles on the way when everybody realizes that our path is peaceful,” he said.

Iran has not previously said when it wanted to have the 50,000 or so centrifuges in place.

Iran has about 3,000 centrifuges, a figure confirmed by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency in a November report. The report said the centrifuges were running at a very low capacity.

If running smoothly for long periods, 3,000 would be enough to make material for a warhead in a year, Western experts say. It would also be enough to start industrial fuel production.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran halt its enrichment work. Tehran has refused and says its aims are peaceful and a national right. Two rounds of sanctions have been imposed on Tehran for refusing to stop.

Iran’s first nuclear power plant is being built by the Russians and has faced years of delays. Tehran says it wants to build a network of such plants.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian, writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Robert Woodward

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