Iran to build 2 new enrichment plants in March.
"We have earmarked
Iran has earmarked potential sites for new nuclear enrichment plants and construction of two of them could begin this year, a nuclear energy official said on Monday.
"We have earmarked close to 20 sites and have passed the report on those to the president, however, these sites are only potential," Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying on news agency ISNA.
"We should begin the construction of two enrichment sites next year ... In the two new sites, we plan to use new centrifuges."The next Iranian year begins on March 21. Iran announced plans in November to build 10 new enrichment plants to match its existing Natanz complex. The announcement came as the United States and its allies hoped to reach an agreement for Iran to enrich uranium abroad.
According to the latest U.N. nuclear watchdog report, Iran has installed in Natanz 8,610 centrifuges, the device which rotates at supersonic speed to enrich uranium.
Of these, 3,772 centrifuges are actively enriching uranium under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iranian officials maintain Natanz has an annual capacity to produce about 30 tonnes of enriched uranium. According to IAEA, the Islamic republic currently has an estimated 2,065 kilograms (4,540 pounds) of low-enriched uranium.
Salehi said the new plants will be equipped with new generation centrifuges and the facilities would be hidden in mountains so as to protect them from "any attacks."
Washington fears Iran's nuclear energy program will allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such intention and says it only wants to generate electricity.
Salehi said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would announce on April 9 what kind of centrifuges are to be used at the new sites.
The United States and its allies hope to get new United Nations sanctions imposed on Iran in the coming weeks over its continued enrichment work.
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