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Iran Plans To Use New Centrifuge At Atom Fuel Plant

Satellite image of the purported Qom facility made available to AFP on September 26, 2009 by Digitalglobe.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran plans to use a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium at its newly disclosed nuclear fuel facility, its atomic energy chief has said in remarks published on October 6.

The underground enrichment plant near the holy Shi'ite city of Qom had been kept secret until Iran disclosed its existence last month, setting off an international furor.

Iran agreed with six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- in Geneva on October 1 to allow inspectors from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the site.

IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei said in Tehran on October 4 that UN experts will inspect it on October 25. The plant under construction near Qom is Iran's second uranium-enrichment plant after one near the central city of Natanz.

"We have put our effort on research and development of new machines in the past two or three months so that we would be able to produce machines with high efficiency and completely indigenous," said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

"We are hopeful of using a new generation of centrifuges at the Fordu site," the Kayhan daily quoted Salehi as saying, referring to the new plant.

Kayhan published a transcript of an Iranian state television interview with Salehi.

The West suspects the Islamic state is covertly seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies it. Enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants and, if refined much further, provide material for nuclear bombs.

Iran has said the new enrichment site, which has space for about 3,000 centrifuges, is about 18 months away from going on line.

The October 1 talks in Geneva are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher UN sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.

Last month, Salehi said Iran has built a new generation of centrifuges and was testing them, adding they were stronger and faster than those now in operation.

An August 28 IAEA report said Iran had actually somewhat reduced the number of older-model P-1 centrifuges enriching uranium in a step diplomats said appeared to be related to needed repair and maintenance work.

An upgraded model of centrifuge could enrich at a rate two to three times that of the P-1, which has been prone to outages caused by vibration and overheating.