New Iranian enrichment plant sparks western fury
The United States, Britain and France were to demand an international inspection of the site before western powers hold nuclear talks with Iran on October 1, officials said.Vienna -- Iran has admitted building a second uranium enrichment plant, the UN nuclear watchdog said Friday, sparking the fury of western leaders who suspect the Islamic Republic is closing on an atomic bomb.
President Barack Obama of the United States, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France were to demand an international inspection of the site before western powers hold nuclear talks with Iran on October 1, officials said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had sent a letter on September 21 to inform the watchdog "that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction in the country," agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire said in a statement.
The New York Times reported that the secret facility was being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Tehran. Iran already has one enrichment plant at Natanz.
The UN Security Council has already imposed three rounds of sanction on Iran for refusing to stop uranium enrichment, a key stage in making a bomb as well as other nuclear applications.
The West accuses Iran of seeking the atomic bomb and is pressing for even tougher sanctions, but Tehran insists its activities are entirely peaceful.
Vidricaire said: "In response, the IAEA has requested Iran to provide specific information and access to the facility as soon as possible."
The French Foreign Ministry accused Iran of committing a "serious violation" of UN resolutions with the admission of a second uranium plant. "This strengthens our suspicions," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages.
US President Barack Obama was to accuse Iran of secretly building the new plant and was to join Brown and Sarkozy in demanding an immediate inspection by the IAEA, a US administration official said.
The leaders were to speak on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where Iran has been a key topic.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States are to hold nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva.
Pressure has increased with Russia indicating that it could agree to tougher sanctions.
No nuclear material has yet been introduced into the new enrichment plant under construction, the IAEA said.
Furthermore, Iran told the agency that "the enrichment level would be up to 5.0 percent," which is a low level of enrichment and not sufficiently high to make the fissile material for an atomic bomb.
Low enriched uranium is used to make nuclear fuel.
"Iran assured the agency in the letter that 'further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time,'" Vidricaire said.
The Natanz plant comprises a huge underground hall, under daily surveillance by IAEA inspectors, where more than 8,000 centrifuges are installed, machines that rotate at supersonic speed to refine uranium.
More than half of the centrifuges -- nearly 5,000 -- are currently actively enriching uranium.
The existence of Natanz, was long concealed by Iran, until the National Council of Resistance of Iran blew the whistle in 2002.
On Thursday, an Iranian exiled opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said it had information on two previously unknown sites in the Tehran region being used to build nuclear warheads.
Iran stopped providing the IAEA with advance information on nuclear site designs last year in retaliation for the UN sanctions.
The IAEA has also complained that Tehran is stonewalling its questions on allegations it has conducted weaponisation studies.
The Natanz plant has been using a 1970s design centrifuge which Iran obtained from the former nuclear smuggling network of Pakistani AQ Khan.
But Iran has also been experimenting with more advanced models in recent years, aimed at enriching uranium at a much faster rate.
It is not clear which model of centrifuge will be installed at the new plant.