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The Nation

Iran said to have set up centrifuges

February 06, 2007|From Reuters

VIENNA — Iran has set up two cascades of 164 centrifuges each in its Natanz nuclear plant, laying a basis for full-scale uranium enrichment, European diplomats said Monday.

The cascades were to be vacuum-tested shortly, without uranium feedstock inside, and fuel material would then be added if the trial runs were successful, they said.

The 328 centrifuges would be the vanguard of 3,000 planned for installation in coming months.

Tehran recently finished installing piping, electrical cables and other equipment needed to begin so-called industrial-scale enrichment in the vast subterranean complex, which is fortified and ringed by antiaircraft guns, in the central Iranian desert.

Starting the cascades would dramatically sharpen Iran's confrontation with Western powers that pushed through limited United Nations sanctions on Tehran six weeks ago to try to curb what they suspect is a disguised effort to produce atomic bombs.

The Islamic Republic, the world's No. 4 oil producer, says it wants to produce electricity.

Diplomats said the launch of the cascades may be the gist of Iran's planned announcement on nuclear progress Sunday.

"Two cascades have been installed in the underground plant, but they are not running yet," said a European Union diplomat in Vienna, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

Iran plans to rig up a total of 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz over the longer term.

There was no comment from Iran. On Friday, it denied reports abroad that it had begun installing the 3,000 centrifuges.

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