TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's government has approved plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants, the state broadcaster said today, a clear show of defiance after the UN nuclear watchdog rebuked Tehran over secret nuclear work.
The new enrichment plants would be the same size as its main enrichment complex at Natanz and work would begin within two months, the broadcaster said.
Hardline President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran should aim to produce 250-300 tonnes of nuclear fuel a year, it added.
"Ten new enrichment plants will be built," the semi-official Mehr News Agency quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, as saying.
State broadcaster IRIB said the location of five of the plants had already been decided and that work on these should start within two months. At the same time, the Atomic Energy Organization would find suitable locations for the other five.
The enrichment plant decision will aggravate tensions between the Islamic Republic and major powers seeking a diplomatic solution to a long-running dispute over Iranian nuclear work.
Western powers suspect the Islamic Republic is seeking to develop nuclear bombs, and backed a UN-drafted nuclear fuel deal that was designed to allay international concern about Iran's atomic activities.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, says its atomic program aims to generate electricity.
Earlier, Iranian lawmakers urged the government to prepare a plan to reduce cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after the UN body rebuked Tehran for secretly building a uranium enrichment plant.
"Because of world powers' hasty behavior, the government should submit its plan over reducing Iran's cooperation level with the agency," MPs said in a statement read out in parliament, state radio reported.
Parliament can oblige the government to change the level of cooperation with the IAEA, as it did in 2006 after the Vienna-based agency voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
The resolution by the 35-nation IAEA board -- which won rare backing from China and Russia -- was a sign of spreading alarm over Tehran's failure to dispel suspicions it has covert plans to build nuclear bombs, a charge Iran denies.
It urged Iran to clarify the original purpose of the recently disclosed Fordow enrichment site, hidden inside a mountain bunker, stop construction and confirm there are no more hidden sites.
The vote reflected exasperation with Iran's retreat from an IAEA-brokered draft deal to provide it with fuel for a medical nuclear reactor if it agreed to part with its enriched uranium, which could be turned into bomb material if further refined.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said major powers would pursue harsher sanctions against Iran if it ignored the vote.
But it was unclear whether the West could now coax Moscow and Beijing to join in tougher sanctions against Iran, something they have long prevented at the UN Security Council, which has imposed three rounds of punitive measures since 2006.
Iranian MP Mostafa Kavakebian, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy committee, said the IAEA resolution showed that Moscow and Beijing were "not honest", the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.