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Tue 10 Apr 2007 06:48 PM

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Iran plans 50,000 nuclear centrifuges

The country hikes up its atomic ambitions at Natanz as UN inspectors begin visit.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) said today in Tehran that the country has plans for 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, instead of just 3,000 as reported previously.

"We have plans to install 50,000 centrifuges," AEOI head Reza Aqazadeh told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The centrifuges would all be at the country's Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

Aqazadeh said he had not specified the number of centrifuges at Monday's National Day of Nuclear Technology ceremony because he was concerned that mentioning numbers would cause ‘ambiguity' about Iran's capacity plans.

"I was concerned the foreign media would misuse the issue and pretend that Iran's nuclear program would end up in installation of just 3,000 centrifuges," Aqazadeh said.

"When we say we have entered industrial scale enrichment, [it means] there is no way back. Installation of centrifuges will continue steadily to reach a stage where all the 50,000 centrifuges are launched," he added.

However, an analyst at the London-based Control Risks said that Iran's account of its nuclear accomplishment is "probably exaggeration," according to Bloomberg.

Heinrich Matthee told Bloomberg that Iran's announcement that it plans 50,000 centrifuges - though it cannot be excluded at some stage in the future - is "a claim in the propaganda war."

The Bloomberg report added that Russia's government - which is building Iran's first nuclear reactor in Bushehr - said today it wasn't aware of any ‘technological breakthrough' in Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran's defiant statements come as two UN nuclear inspectors began a week-long trip to visit Natanz, a day after Tehran declared it had begun

industrial atomic work

at the site.

An Iranian official confirmed the inspectors' arrival to Reuters and said they were on a routine visit. He gave no further details.

Inspectors from the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), routinely visit Natanz in central Iran and other declared nuclear sites although Tehran curtailed more intrusive snap inspections last year in retaliation for its case being sent to the U.N. Security Council.

Western nations fear Iran may divert fuel towards a covert military programme aimed at building atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying the fuel would only be used in atomic reactors to generate electricity.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced during a visit to Natanz on Monday that Iran had begun industrial-scale nuclear fuel production, a fresh snub to the U.N. Security Council which has slapped sanctions on Tehran for refusing to halt such work.

Iran insists the programme is peaceful and has refused to stop the work, but says it is ready for talks to reassure the West about its intentions. But it says it will not accept preconditions for those negotiations.

The United States and others have insisted they will not negotiate until Tehran suspends enrichment.

Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, on Monday said that Iran is prepared to hold talks on the nuclear issue to reach a level of understanding, according to the IRNA.

"Now that Iran's nuclear cycle is complete, Tehran is prepared to start unconditioned talks with the West to reach an agreement," Larijani is quoted as saying in Tehran Times.

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