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Iran says makes new model of nuclear centrifuges

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has built a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium and is testing them, the official news agency IRNA quoted its nuclear energy agency chief as saying Tuesday.

“Iranian scientists have made a new generation of centrifuges that are currently undergoing necessary tests,” Ali Akbar Salehi told a Tehran news conference as reported by IRNA.

“Chains of 10 centrifuges are now under test,” he said, and the number in each chain “will be gradually increased.”

Salehi did not say when the new model of centrifuge would be introduced to the production line in its Natanz enrichment plant but said it was stronger and faster than those now in operation.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only to low levels suitable for electricity generation and is committed to non-proliferation safeguards maintained by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Citing intelligence reports, the West suspects Iran has secretly researched how to fuel atom bombs with highly enriched uranium. Iran has denied this and said the intelligence, unverified but deemed credible by the IAEA, was fabricated.

A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said there appeared to be little new in Salehi’s announcement. The IAEA has reported Iran testing advanced models of centrifuges for more than two years but found no sign of them being phased into production lines.

RISING ENRICHMENT CAPACITY

An August 28 IAEA report said Iran had actually somewhat reduced the number of older-model P-1 centrifuges enriching uranium in a step diplomats said appeared to be related to needed repair and maintenance work.

An upgraded model of centrifuge could enrich at a rate 2-3 times that of the P-1, which has been prone to outages caused by vibration and overheating, but Iran appears to have improved its performance significantly in the past year.

The report said Iran had raised the number of installed, although not yet all running, P-1 centrifuges to 8,308, boosting its potential nuclear fuel output capacity.

Iran has since added some 400 more to that total, another senior diplomat said familiar with IAEA inspections said.

World powers base their assessment of possible proliferation risk posed by Iran on the number of centrifuges installed.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend enrichment because of its past concealment of sensitive nuclear activity and continued curbs on inspections. The IAEA says this makes it difficult to verify Tehran’s work is wholly peaceful.

Iran has refused, but agreed to hold broad talks with six big powers on October 1. Western leaders indicate Iran will face harsher sanctions unless it shows readiness to negotiate meaningfully to allay international concerns about its nuclear intentions before the end of this year.

Salehi said a location for the talks had not yet been fixed, casting doubts on reports Turkey would host the meeting. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said Turkey would very likely be the venue.

Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb in Tehran, Sylvia Westall in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Dominic Evans

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