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Iran making 5,000 nuclear centrifuges-exiles

Ali SafaviBy Aine Gallagher

Reuters, BRUSSELS, September 13 – Iran is making 5,000 centrifuges that can be used to produce enriched nuclear fuel for weapons and almost two-thirds of the machines are ready for use, an exiled Iranian opposition group said on Tuesday.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has reported accurately about Tehran’s nuclear programme in the past, is the political wing of the militant People’s Mujahideen Organisation (MKO) and is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organisation.

"In order to enrich uranium to weapons grade, the Iranian regime has been concentrating on … manufacturing some 5,000 centrifuge machines," Ali Safavi, an NCRI official, told a news conference in Brussels.

Centrifuges purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants of weapons. A commercial enrichment plant typically has tens of thousands of centrifuges so 5,000 would be relatively small.

But they could however theoretically produce enough highly enriched uranium fuel for several bombs a year.

"This will be the first phase for the ultimate goal of manufacturing 50,000 centrifuges which would enable them to enrich weapons grade uranium," Safavi said.

In what represents the NCRI’s sixth statement to the press in as many weeks, Safavi said Tehran has smuggled centrifuge engines from China through Dubai over the past two years. Last month, the NCRI said Iran had bought tritium, a dual-use substance that can be used to boost a nuclear explosion, from a South Korean firm. Seoul acknowledged that Tehran had attempted to purchase tritium from a Korean company, but denied that the sale had been completed.

Europe and the United States are preparing to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council after Tehran resumed uranium processing last month due to fears that Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA board meets next Monday.

Tehran denies wanting weapons and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.

In August 2002, the NCRI reported the existence of the Arak heavy water facility and a massive underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

Iran later declared Natanz and Arak to the IAEA, though the agency launched a full-scale probe of Iran’s nuclear programme which it has never completed.