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FACTBOX: Iran approves plan to build 10 new enrichment plants

(Reuters) - Iran’s government has approved plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants, two days after the UN nuclear watchdog rebuked Tehran over secret nuclear work.

Here are some details about Iran’s known nuclear sites:

* BUSHEHR:

-- The Bushehr nuclear facility is associated with the city of the same name, but is actually located near Halileh about 12 km (8 miles) south of Bushehr proper. The site is also the location of Iran’s Nuclear Energy College.

-- Moscow agreed to build the station in 1995 on the site of a plant begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. This project was disrupted by Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

-- The project was later revived with Russian help, but Russia has blamed project delays on problems with receiving payment from Iran. Russia started deliveries of nuclear fuel for Bushehr in late 2007 and deliveries were completed in 2008.

-- Russia announced the latest delay this month, saying that technical issues would prevent its engineers from starting up the reactor by the end of 2009.

-- Bushehr will have an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts.

* ISFAHAN:

-- Iran’s uranium ore processing plant at Isfahan, some 400 km (250 miles) south of Tehran, converts the mineral into hexafluoride gas, the form that is fed into centrifuge machines for enrichment into nuclear fuel. The plant would produce fuel for Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor (see below).

-- A nuclear technology and research center in Isfahan is Iran’s largest, employing up to 3,000 scientists.

-- The processing site is under regular inspection by the IAEA.

* NATANZ:

-- In the desert 230 km (140 miles) south of Tehran, a vast subterranean hall contains some 4,600 centrifuges enriching uranium. Output remains well below industrial capacity -- making fuel in usable quantities -- but is gradually rising.

-- Nearby is the above-ground pilot wing of Natanz where Iran is testing advanced models of centrifuges able to refine uranium 2-3 times faster than its current 1970s-era model. Iran aims eventually to operate more than 50,000 centrifuges in the underground plant to achieve industrial-scale enrichment and it will have the potential to produce at a minimum, 500kg of weapons-grade uranium per year.

-- The complex is under monitoring by the IAEA, whose inspectors said in a report this month that Iran was enriching uranium with 3,936 centrifuges at Natanz, and had a total of 8,692 machines installed.

* ARAK:

-- In 2006, Iran began work on a heavy-water production plant near Arak 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran. Western officials suspect Iran will covertly use spent fuel to make bomb-grade plutonium at a nearby reactor due for completion in 2009. Iran denies this, saying the Arak complex will only produce isotopes for medical and agricultural ends.

-- Iran allowed IAEA officials to inspect Arak in August. The U.N. agency had urged Iran to grant access so it could verify that the site under construction is for peaceful uses only.

* QOM: FORDOW ENRICHMENT PLANT:

-- Iran told the IAEA that it was building a second uranium enrichment plant in September. Tucked away deep inside a mountain on a former missile base controlled by the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps. The site is around 160 km (100 miles) south of Tehran near the Iranian holy city of Qom, according to satellite pictures posted on the Internet.

-- IAEA inspectors paid their first visit to the site on October 26-27 to verify design data provided by Iran. They confirmed it was designed to run with 3,000 centrifuges, with Iran saying the machines may be a more advanced type than it has used before. These could enrich uranium two to three times faster than Iran has done so far, experts say.

-- Inspectors combed the entire plant site, taking photos of equipment like piping for centrifuges. Production equipment had not been connected and no centrifuges were present. Some of the equipment had been transferred from its much larger Natanz enrichment complex.

-- Iran told the IAEA the plant would go into operation in 2011. The IAEA told Iran the site would henceforth be subject to regular inspections, with the next one at the end of this month.

-- Iran explained in a letter that construction began in the second half of 2007 as one of a number of “contingency centers” because of increasing threats of military attack on its known nuclear sites, especially Natanz.

-- But inspectors told the Iranians in meetings that the IAEA had satellite pictures and other intelligence showing construction there began in 2002, paused in 2004, and resumed in 2006.

Sources: Reuters/NTI

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