Iran’s ex-nuclear chief says his country has 18,000 centrifuges

Figure is one-third higher than previously thought; announcement highlights nuclear program’s continued development despite sanctions

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

TEHRAN — Tehran has a total of 18,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, Iran’s outgoing nuclear chief said Saturday. The number is higher by a third than is publicly known.

Uranium enrichment is a process that can be a pathway to making nuclear weapons.

Fereidoun Abbasi’s announcement came as he handed over his post to the country’s former foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who was appointed as the new administration’s nuclear chief by the recently elected President Hasan Rouhani.

Abbasi said 10,000 centrifuges currently operating are of an older model, IR-1, while about 7,000 more of the same model are ready to be installed along with just over 1,000 centrifuges of an advanced new model.

Fereydoun Abbasi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, delivers a speech at an IAEA conference in Vienna on Monday (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)
Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, in a speech at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in September 2012. (photo credit: AP/Ronald Zak)

Iran, which has one of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world, says it needs nuclear power to generate electricity. It is thought by many, including the US, Israel, many EU governments and international watchdogs, to be attempting to produce nuclear weapons.

The West and others have imposed several rounds of increasingly harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic in hopes of forcing it to pull back from its nuclear program.

But the sanctions and several rounds of talks between the West and Tehran have failed to slow down Iran’s nuclear work.

Earlier this month, then-foreign minister Salehi announced Russia a new deal with Russia to build Iran a new nuclear plant, and insisted the site would be used to generate electricity.

According to a report from the Russian news site RiaNovosti, citing the semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr, Salehi said that negotiations on the planned site were nearing a conclusion.

“Iran has held consultations with the Russian side and soon an agreement of mutual understanding will be signed on the construction of a new nuclear power plant,” Salehi said.

According to the report, last February Salehi told journalists that Iran intended to build another plant, with Russian aid, at the Bushehr site.

Last June Iran also announced its intention to construct a new nuclear research facility near the town of Zarghan, south of Tehran.

In June, the head of United Nations’ atomic watchdog said work on Iran’s nuclear program was steadily ramping up despite the heavy sanctions imposed by the international community on the country’s economy.

International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said that Tehran’s nuclear program was making “steady progress,” according to Reuters.

He added that sanctions were not having any impact on slowing down Iran’s nuclear program. “There is a steady increase of capacity and production,” he said.

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