TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with plans to sharply increase its capacity to enrich uranium, defying international pressure to halt activities the West fears are aimed at making nuclear bombs.
Eight days after Iran announced it was capable of industrial-scale enrichment, its top nuclear official said United Nations sanctions would not stop work to install more centrifuges in the main Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, suggested it could take between two and four years to reach the goal of 50,000 centrifuges there, depending on the situation at home and abroad.
Iran has previously said it aims to build 54,000 centrifuges, which spin at high speeds to produce fuel for power plants or, if uranium is enriched further, bombs.
Another senior official this month said Tehran had built 3,000 so far — a number which Western experts say could allow the country to make enough material for an atomic bomb in a year, if it wanted to and if the machines run without hitches.
“Today in Natanz the continuous process of installing centrifuges is going on,” Aghazadeh told the ISNA news agency. “If the sanctions continue we will still be able to manage.”
The United Nations Security Council has passed two sanctions resolutions on Iran since December, targeting its nuclear and military sectors and severely impeding its financial transactions with the outside world.
But the Islamic Republic is showing no sign of bowing to such measures, insisting it only aims to generate electricity through its nuclear program.
Aghazadeh called for “serious negotiations” on the nuclear issue and warned that Security Council members would also pay a price if they introduced any further sanctions against Iran, without elaborating.
“Therefore from now on both sides will pay,” he said.
Last week’s announcement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran had begun industrial-scale nuclear fuel production marked a shift from experimental enrichment work Tehran had been conducting.
This prompted a warning from the United States that Iran could face further sanctions.
Analysts say Iran has used announcements of atomic progress in the past to strengthen its bargaining position with the West, but that such statements have often glossed over technical glitches they say have plagued Iran’s atom work.
The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Thursday Iran was still at the starting stage of creating a uranium enrichment plant and that concerns stemmed more from its motivations than the scale of production.
Aghazadeh said the centrifuges that were being installed in Natanz in central Iran were domestically-produced, adding the country had no plans to build other such enrichment facilities.
“The process of installing centrifuges in Natanz is continuing until reaching 50,000,” he said. “This period (of installing them), based on the internal and external situation, can take two or four years.”