Two days after the world’s atomic energy watchdog rebuked Iran for building a small undisclosed uranium enrichment facility, the Islamic Republic’s Cabinet today ordered a dramatic expansion of the nuclear program that would include 10 more nuclear plants.
If completed, the plan to build nuclear enrichment facilities on the scale of the industrial-size 50,000-centrifuge in the town of Natanz would provide Iran with enough enriched uranium to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity within six years, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
But Iran’s stated plans often don’t square with its capabilities. The oil-and-gas rich Middle East nation of 70 million would need to overcome economic and technical hurdles to mount so ambitious an expansion of its nuclear program. Currently, Iran has installed about 8,000 centrifuges, of which only about half are producing reactor-grade uranium.
Ahmadinejad said the new facilities would incorporate new, more efficient centrifuges that have yet to be employed by Iran.
“New high-capacity centrifuges have been designed by the Islamic Republic of Iran that can carry out the task in fewer numbers,” he said. “We will use these new centrifuges as soon as they become operational.”
Iran’s parliament issued a statement today asking the government to reduce its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency following the censure vote on Friday. But Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said the country would not pull out of its treaty obligations, which bar it from pursuing nuclear weapons.
“We pursue our rights and international obligations in equal measures,” he said on the sidelines of the Cabinet meeting, according to Mehr.
Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium has worried the United States and the West. Highly enriched uranium can provide fuel for a nuclear weapon, and the 500,000 centrifuges Iran envisions could theoretically produce enough fuel for a bomb every two days.
Iran has not responded definitively to a U.S.-backed proposal to swap much of its current supply of 5%-enriched uranium for 20%-enriched fuel rods to operate a Tehran medical research plant. Ahmadinejad also said the government would begin studying the possibility of producing its own medical-grade fuel.
Iran contends that the world powers are obliged to sell it the medical fuel rods as signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
“We treat the entire world with kindness and friendship,” Ahmadinejad said. “However, we are not joking around with anyone, and we do not allow the rights of the Iranian nation to be violated even by one iota.”