BUSHEHR, Iran (Reuters) - Iran denied it had slowed down its nuclear activities and said it planned to install 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium over the next five years, a senior Iranian nuclear official said on Wednesday.
The U.N. nuclear agency watchdog said last week that Iran had slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz but had built up a stockpile of nuclear fuel.
The West accuses Iran of covertly seeking to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting its activities are aimed at generating electricity to meet soaring demand in the world’s fourth largest oil producer.
“Our plan to install and run centrifuges is not based on political conditions. We have a plan and we will go ahead with it,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, told a news conference.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said the United States is prepared to talk to Tehran, in a break from his predecessor’s approach, but his administration has also warned of tougher sanctions if Iran refuses to halt its nuclear work.
“America should face reality and accept living with a nuclear Iran. This acceptance will allow America better access to Iran’s (nuclear) market,” Aghazadeh said, adding that a fresh nuclear achievement would be announced on April 9.
He did not give details.
Aghazadeh was speaking in Bushehr, in southwest Iran, where Iran is building its first nuclear power plant. Iran said on Wednesday it had carried out successful tests at the Russian- built plant, taking it a step closer to its launch.
“Currently we have 6,000 running centrifuges in Natanz and we will increase our activities to install more by the end of next (Iranian) year (to March 2010),” Aghazadeh said.
He did not say how many centrifuges would be in place by March 2010, but added that Iran planned to install 50,000 centrifuges in the next five years.
“We have not changed our scheduled in Natanz. We have neither slowed down or accelerated our activities there,” he said.
Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Hossein Jaseb, writing by Edmund Blair