DUBAI: Iran will go on refining uranium “with intensity” and the number of enrichment centrifuges it has operating will rise substantially in the current year, the country’s nuclear energy chief said yesterday.
The comments by Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, signalled continued defiance in the face of international demands that Tehran halt enrichment to the higher 20 percent fissile purity level, close down its Fordow enrichment plant, and ship out its stockpile of the material.
But Abbasi-Davani also said Iran would continue and possibly raise its output of reactor fuel using 20 percent enriched uranium, which could allay concerns that a growing stockpile of the higher-grade material could be put to making atom bombs.
Diplomacy between Iran and the world powers - the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain — has been deadlocked since a June meeting that ended without breakthrough.
Both sides now say they want to resume talks soon, after this month’s re-election of US President Barack Obama.
Diplomats expect a new meeting in Istanbul later this year or in January. One diplomatic source said the powers would propose the first half of December but that the following month was more likely.
Iran has faced a tightening of Western trade sanctions in the last two years, with the United States and its allies hoping the measures will force Iran to curb its nuclear program.
“Despite the sanctions, most likely this year we will have a substantial growth in centrifuge machines and we will continue enrichment with intensity,” state television quoted Abbasi-Davani as saying. The Iranian calendar year ends on March 20.
But Abbasi-Davani did not say whether Iran would increase the work that most worries the West, the higher-grade enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, as opposed to the lower-grade enrichment to 3.5 percent level needed for nuclear power plants.