Iran lifts output, upgrades atomic technology before meeting

By JONATHAN TIRONE | Bloomberg News | Published: February 21, 2013

VIENNA — Iran has rolled out new atomic technology and boosted its output of enriched uranium that world powers are concerned may eventually be used for nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran's total production of medium-enriched uranium rose to 280 kilograms (617 pounds) from 232.8 kilograms reported in November, the IAEA said Thursday in a 12-page restricted report. Iran has converted or is in the process of converting 103 kilograms, or 37 percent of the stockpile, into reactor fuel, which Iran has declared is for producing medical isotopes.

"The agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities," the Vienna-based IAEA said. "The agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

Iran will meet with the so-called P5+1 group — China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States — in Astana, Kazakhstan on Feb. 26 to resume negotiations over the atomic work. The P5+1 will make a significant new offer to Iran, diplomats from those countries have said. Israel hasn't ruled out military strikes to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons capacity.

About 175 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, or 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the quantity of weapons-grade uranium needed to produce a bomb, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA that's funded by European governments.

Iran began installing new advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility on Feb. 6, according to the report. The machines, which Iran hadn't begun feeding with material, can enrich more uranium in less time.

"This is the first time that centrifuges more advanced than the IR-1 have been installed" in fuel-enrichment plants, the IAEA said. Iran also installed and began experimental use of two new kinds of advanced centrifuges, the IR-6 and IR6s, at a research and development laboratory, it said.

The IAEA and Iran are reassessing how their negotiations over wider checks on suspected nuclear facilities will continue, two senior international officials said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Inspectors want guarantees of unhindered access while Iran, with concerns over the security of its facilities, seeks a time limit to the investigation, they said.

The number of centrifuges, fast-spinning machines that purify the heavy metal, installed at Iran's fuel-fabrication plant in Natanz, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Tehran, rose to about 12,280 from about 10,000 in November, according to the IAEA.

Machines installed at the Fordo facility, which was built clandestinely into the side of a mountain, fell to about 2,710 from about 2,784 in November. That enrichment facility has drawn particular attention from Israel because it would be difficult to destroy in an air strike.


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