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Testing of Uranium Enrichment Equipment Begun by Iran Gov...t

By David E. Sanger


The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday that Iran has begun testing new uranium enrichment equipment that could double the capacity of its small research-and-development facilities.

The action appears to be a signal to the U.N. Security Council that Iran would respond to sanctions by speeding forward with its nuclear program.

Since February, when Iran publicly celebrated its first production of enriched uranium, progress at its main nuclear complex at Natanz has reportedly been slow. Iran has sporadically operated a single “cascade” of 164 centrifuges, the devices that spin at high speed and turn ordinary uranium into a fuel usable for nuclear power plants — or, at higher enrichment levels, nuclear weapons.

Those reports had prompted speculation that Iranian engineers had run into considerable technical difficulties.

But in an interview on Monday, Mohammed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, said that “based on our most recent inspections, the second centrifuge cascade is in place and ready to go.” He said that no uranium had yet been entered into the new system, but could be as early as next week.

Even with two cascades running, it would take Iran years to enrich enough uranium to produce a single nuclear weapon.

The U.S. director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, has said repeatedly that he believes Tehran is four to 10 years away from developing a weapon, even though its technology base is far more advanced than that of North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test 15 days ago.

Unlike Pyongyang, Iran has insisted that it does not intend to build a weapon. Nonetheless, Iran ignored an Aug. 31 deadline, set by the Security Council, to stop enriching uranium.

Since then, European nations, China, Russia, and the United States have been debating what sanctions, if any, should be imposed. China and Russia have resisted, and in a speech on Monday at Georgetown University’s school of foreign service, ElBaradei made clear that he believes sanctions are unlikely to work.

“Penalizing them is not a solution,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to bite the bullet and talk to North Korea and Iran.”