Iran Underlines Intention To Grow Nuclear Program

Project Announced to Install 54,000 Centrifuges

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 13, 2006; Page A18

ISTANBUL, April 12 -- Iran on Wednesday underscored its determination to proceed with its nuclear program, as an official announced plans to install 54,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium in the years ahead.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told state television the centrifuge cascades would be enough to produce fuel for a 1,000-megawatt power plant -- the scale of the nuclear generator Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf.


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in Roshtkhar during trip to Khorasan Razavi province northeast of Tehran, continues to defy U.S. pressure to halt Iran's nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in Roshtkhar during trip to Khorasan Razavi province northeast of Tehran, continues to defy U.S. pressure to halt Iran's nuclear program. (By Associated Press Via Mehr News Agency)

The official gave no target date for the expansion. But the statement, coming a day after Iran announced it had successfully enriched uranium to new levels at its pilot plant in Natanz, served to underline the government's resolve to proceed with an ambitious program that the U.N. Security Council has demanded be halted.

"We will expand uranium enrichment to industrial scale at Natanz," Saeedi said on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

Though Iran has said its nuclear program is intended only to generate power, the Bush administration and several other governments maintain that it is a cover for a nuclear weapons program. In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.N. Security Council should consider "strong steps" in view of Iran's nuclear advance.

On Tuesday, the head of Iran's nuclear agency said Iran planned to install 3,000 centrifuges over the course of the next year. Gholamreza Aqazadeh also said the country would invite bids from foreign companies to build two 1,000-megawatt plants.

The Bushehr plant was 92 percent complete as of last month, he said. "We hope the test production will be launched in the current year," Iran's official news agency quoted Aqazadeh as saying.

But Moscow appears in no hurry to complete the facility. Though an ally of Iran, the Russian government has joined U.S. and European efforts to waylay Iran's nuclear ambition until its civilian nature can be assured. A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday criticized Tuesday's enrichment announcement, saying "this step is wrong."

At the United Nations, China's ambassador said Wednesday that Iranian enrichment is "not in line" with U.N. demands.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, said after a meeting of the Security Council's permanent members -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- that all five took the Iranian step seriously, the Reuters news agency reported. But "the question of what precisely we can do is something we've got to consult with our capitals about," he said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, arrived in Tehran on Wednesday evening for talks on the program. The Security Council gave Iran's theocratic government until April 28 to freeze the program, which was kept secret for 18 years. The demand carries no specific threat of consequences, however.


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