Monday, October 23, 2006

Iran expands nuclear program..

Mon Oct 23, 2006 11:55am ET By Mark Heinrich VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has launched a second batch of centrifuges at its pilot nuclear fuel plant despite possible U.N. Security Council sanctions, diplomats said. Tehran fired up the new cascade of 164 interconnected centrifuges, which can enrich uranium for either power plant or nuclear bomb fuel, earlier this month to go with an initial network of 164, they said.But Iran appeared to be only testing the second cascade, without feeding "UF6" uranium gas into it, as it has generally done with the first cascade, which first yielded a tiny amount of home-grown enriched uranium in April. A senior diplomat familiar with U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran said Tehran remained a long way from "industrial scale" capacity that would signal its emergence as a nuclear power, as North Korea showed on October 9 by detonating an atomic device. "The second cascade was brought on line earlier this month but they appear to be just running it empty. That is, vacuum-testing to assess durability," said the diplomat, close to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency."What they are not doing is building a stockpile of enriched uranium that would give them a bomb breakout ability, something like 100-200 kg (240-480 pounds). It is just a few grams here, a few grams there," he said.There was no immediate comment on the centrifuges from Iran, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Western powers were wrong if they thought his country would retreat under political pressure from its nuclear plans.The Islamic Republic says it wants to enrich uranium only to generate electricity. The West suspects that OPEC's No. 2 oil exporter is trying to build bombs under the guise of a civilian program to threaten Israel and Western interests.

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