Iran said it will start making higher-grade reactor fuel on Tuesday and will add 10 uranium enrichment plants over the next year.
The statement by Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation head Ali Akbar Salehi followed orders from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday for work to begin on producing atomic fuel for a Tehran research reactor.
Iran informed the U.N. nuclear agency in a letter on Monday about its decision to enrich uranium at its Natanz plant to a level of 20 percent for use in the reactor producing medical isotopes, compared with the 3.5 percent it now makes.
"Today we handed over the letter," Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Iran's Arabic-language al Alam state television.
The letter said 20 percent enrichment would start on Tuesday with the aim of later converting it into fuel and it invited U.N. inspectors to monitor the process, Soltanieh told Reuters.
Salehi earlier told al Alam: "Iran will set up 10 uranium enrichment centres next year." The Iranian year starts in March.
"Open to nuclear fuel exchange"
Ahmadinejad said Iran remained open to a proposed nuclear fuel exchange with world powers. Iran says it wants only to generate electricity from low-level enrichment.
Salehi suggested production of the material would be halted if Iran could import 20 percent uranium, the degree of purity required for conversion into special fuel needed to run a Tehran nuclear medicine reactor, Iran's goal for the move.
Tehran has voiced readiness to send low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in a swap for fuel for the reactor, due to run out of it later this year.
But amendments Iran has demanded to the U.N.-drafted plan have been rejected by the United States, France and Russia because they would allow Iran to keep much of its LEU reserve.
"Iran would halt its enrichment process for the Tehran research reactor any time it receives the necessary fuel for it," Salehi said.
"UN: 20 percent legal"
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said enrichment to 20 percent was legal under Iran's non-proliferation accord with the agency.
"The Iranian nation will show on (Feb. 11) how it will punch the faces of all the world's arrogants -- America, Britain and Zionists -- with its unity," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday, state television reported.
"Natanz would need less than a few months to start making the 20 percent enriched uranium, (although) Iran will face significant technical hurdles in manufacturing it," said David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security.
The bigger question was whether Iran planned to make a small amount of enriched uranium for its research reactor or was trying to convert most of its 3.5 percent stock of enriched uranium into 20 percent material.
"By doing so, it would be going most of the rest of the way to weapon-grade uranium," Albright told Reuters.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a proliferation expert at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the plan for 10 more enrichment sites in short order was "a farcical bluff".
"It is hard-pressed today even to keep the centrifuges installed at Natanz running smoothly," Fitzpatrick told Reuters.
Related news reports:Last Mod: 08 Şubat 2010, 16:44