Iran to build two uranium enrichment plants in Mar
Iran said yesterday it is considering plans to start building two new uranium enrichment plants from March, with the sites concealed in the mountains to avert air strikes.
The announcement from Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi came soon after top US General David Petraeus warned that Washington would now pursue "pressure track" against Iran to thwart its galloping nuclear programme.
"Inshallah (Allah willing), in the next Iranian year (starting in March) as ordered by the president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), we may start the construction of two new enrichment sites," Salehi told ISNA news agency.
He said the enrichment capacities of the new sites would be similar to the existing facility in the central city of Natanz, where Tehran is refining uranium despite three sets of UN sanctions.
According to the latest UN nuclear watchdog report, Iran has installed in Natanz 8,610 centrifuges, the device which rotates at supersonic speed to enrich uranium.
Of these, 3,772 centrifuges are actively enriching uranium under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iranian officials maintain Natanz has an annual capacity to produce about 30 tonnes of enriched uranium. According to IAEA, the Islamic republic currently has an estimated 2,065 kilogrammes (4,540 pounds) of low-enriched uranium.
Salehi said the new plants will be equipped with new generation centrifuges and the facilities would be hidden in mountains so as to protect them from "any attacks."
Washington and its ally Israel have not ruled out military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites. On Sunday, Petraeus said the United States would increase pressure on the Islamic republic.
"I think that no one at the end of this time can say that the United States and the rest of the world have not given Iran every opportunity to resolve the issues diplomatically," said Petraeus, head of US Central Command.
Iranian officials dismissed the latest report as "baseless."
Meanwhile, Iran has no intention of launching a war but will respond "strongly" to any attack, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani said in an interview published Monday amid concern over its nuclear programme.
"Iran certainly will not start a war. Ahani told Croatia's Vecernji List daily. "But if we are attacked, we will respond strongly."