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Iran to Install First Centrifuges in Fordo Nuclear Facility

Iran will install an initial series of centrifuges in the coming months at the Fordo nuclear facility, the country’s second site for enriching uranium, Vice President Fereydoun Abbasi said.

The existence of the Fordo plant, built into the side of a mountain south of Tehran near the city of Qom, was disclosed in September 2009. The revelation heightened concerns among the U.S. and its allies over Iran’s nuclear program, which they say may be a cover for the development of atomic weapons, an allegation the Persian Gulf country rejects.

Centrifuges are fast-spinning machines that enrich uranium for use as a nuclear fuel by separating its isotopes. Those to be installed at Fordo belong to an advanced generation of centrifuges, Abbasi said today, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran says it already produces 20 percent enriched uranium at a plant in Natanz to provide the 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of the fuel needed to resupply a Tehran reactor. The reactor is running out of the uranium it needs to produce isotopes for treating cancer. Uranium enriched to higher concentrations can form a bomb’s core. Most modern atomic weapons contain about 25 kilograms of the heavy metal enriched to 90 percent purity.

Iranian officials had said the Fordo plant can enrich uranium only to 5 percent and isn’t an “industrial-scale unit.” Abbasi said today that the plant will be dedicated to enriching uranium to higher concentrations, according to IRNA.

Transferring Operations

Iran will transfer the production of 20 percent-enriched uranium to Fordo from Natanz this year, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Abbasi was cited as saying on the state television website.

Iran won’t interrupt the work at Natanz to enrich uranium to 20 percent until it is able to triple production capacity at Fordo, said Abbasi, who also head Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

Iranian officials had said in October 2009 that the Fordo plant would begin operating in about 18 months.

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