Iran has boosted uranium enrichment capacity, report says

May 22, 2013|By Paul Richter
  • Iran has added more than 500 new-model centrifuges at its nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz.
Iran has added more than 500 new-model centrifuges at its nuclear enrichment… (European Pressphoto Agency )

WASHINGTON -- Iran further increased its uranium enrichment capacity in the last three months, yet it also limited its progress in certain sensitive areas of its disputed nuclear program in an apparent attempt to avoid risking retaliation from Israel or the United States, according to a report issued Wednesday by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said that since February Iran has added more than 520 advanced-design IR-2M centrifuges at its plant in Natanz. The model has up to five times the capacity of the first-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.

The installations bring to about 700 the total number of the IR-2M centrifuges, toward Iran’s goal of 3,132.

But Iran also limited the growth in its sensitive stockpile of 20% medium-enriched uranium, which can be easily converted to bomb-grade fuel, thus remaining below the Israeli “red line,” the agency found. Israel has been watching to see whether Iran accumulated 250 kilograms of the material, theoretically enough for one nuclear bomb.

Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman, said the report “marks an unfortunate milestone with regard to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities.”

Experts have been watching to see whether Iran would push the program fast enough to threaten potential progress at the next round of international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Those talks are expected this fall.

But some analysts said they believed Iran’s progress did not necessarily jeopardize those talks.

“Supreme leader Ali Khamenei seeks a calm international and domestic backdrop for the June 14 presidential election. He was probably very insistent that this report not set off much controversy,” Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist at the Eurasia Group consulting group in Washington, wrote in an analysis. “Also, Iran in our view will approach diplomacy ...  this autumn -- after the new president has taken office -- more seriously. Iran's economy is floundering, and the elite will at least want to see the West's best offer.”


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