Iran speeds up pace of enrichment: Report

2012-07-30 15:01
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Jerusalem - Iran has significantly stepped up the pace at which it is enriching uranium, shortening the time it would take for it to reach a nuclear threshold, two Israeli newspapers reported on Monday.

"Iran has broken new records in terms of the pace at which it has been enriching uranium, and it has continued to race ahead so as to create as short a 'storming distance' as possible between it and the bomb," the Maariv daily said.

Sourcing the story to unspecified "intelligence reports", the paper said Iran had been able to up the pace of enrichment due to the fact that it was now operating "close to 10 000 centrifuges" including "a new type of centrifuge that is far more sophisticated".

Israel says a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and officials believe Tehran may be on the cusp of "break out" capacity - the moment when it could quickly produce weapons-grade uranium.

A similar report on the Ynet news website, the online version of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, had identical figures but did not cite a source.

"The data indicate that Iran has significantly increased the pace of its uranium enrichment over the past four months," it said, without giving details.

A matter of time

"Currently the Islamic republic produces 230kg (507 pounds) of LEU (low-enriched uranium) each month and 12 kg (about 26 pounds) of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent," it said.

It said Tehran currently held stocks of around 160kg of 20% enriched uranium, which was about 100kg less than the amount required to produce a bomb.

"Should the Iranians continue to enrich uranium at the current pace, they will have some 260kg (about 570 pounds) of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20% in January or February of 2013," the website said.

"With this amount, it would take Iran only about two months to produce weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear warhead or bomb - a 'nuclear threshold' situation."

In May, the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear watchdog published figures showing Iran had already produced 146kg of 20%-enriched uranium since February, of which just under a third had been converted into fuel plates for the Tehran research reactor, rendering it unsuitable for further enrichment.

Israel, which is widely believed to have the Middle East's only, albeit undeclared, nuclear arsenal, has warned that a military option cannot be ruled out to prevent Iran from developing an atomic weapons capability. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Read more on:    iran  |  israel  |  iran nuclear programme  |  nuclear
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