TEHRAN, Iran – Iran plans to install a more advanced type of centrifuge at its newly revealed uranium enrichment site, an Iranian newspaper reported Tuesday, a development certain to add to international concerns about the country's nuclear work.
Iranian scientists have carried out research and development in recent months for the new generation of more efficient centrifuges, and most of the machines' components are made domestically, said the head of Iran's nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, according to the Kayhan daily newspaper.
Iran's enrichment of uranium is the central concern of the United States and other nations negotiating with the country over its nuclear program. The technology can be used to make fuel for power plants and nuclear weapons.
Iran insists its enrichment work is only meant for use in generating power, but Washington and its allies are suspicions of Tehran's intentions and fear its mastery of the technology will give them a pathway to weapons development.
"Over the past months, we have focused on research and development to drive the new machines," the newspaper quoted Salehi as saying.
The new enrichment site near the holy city of Qom — Iran's second such facility — was made public last month by President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain several days after Iran notified the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring agency about the site. It is still under construction, and Iran says it will be operational in 18 months.
Obama said Iran's failure to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency at the start of construction "raised grave doubts" about its promise to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only.
The new centrifuges would be more advanced than the decades old P-1 type centrifuges once acquired on the black market and in use at Iran's other enrichment facility in Natanz.
"We are hopeful of being able to use our new version of the centrifuges" at the new site, Salehi was quoted as saying. He gave no timeframe for the installation.
Most of the parts for the new centrifuges were made domestically and others were imported, he said, without specifying from which country.
If true, that would be a sign that Iran is able to get around the three sets of U.N. sanctions imposed on the country for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Since April, Iranian officials have said the country is building more advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium with high efficiency and precision.
A Western intelligence assessment that has been cited by diplomats says the new site is meant to house no more than 3,000 enriching centrifuges — much less than the more than 8,000 machines at Natanz.
That assessment also notes that the site could be set up for more advanced domestically developed centrifuges that would process uranium at much higher speed and efficiency, adding to concern that such a site could be used to enrich uranium to the higher levels needed to make weapons.
Over the weekend, Iran agreed to set Oct. 25 as the date for U.N. inspectors to visit the site.
The facility has heightened concerns because its location next to a military base and partly inside a mountain adds to suspicions that Iran's nuclear program could have a military dimension.
The inspection of the site and the outcome of more nuclear talks later this month with the United States and its allies will be crucial in determining the direction of the six-year standoff over Iran's nuclear activities.