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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Iran increases Fordow centrifuge supply by 50%

While they've been negotiating with the West, Iran has increased the number of centrifuges at the Fordow underground nuclear plant from 700 to 1,050 since February according to Western diplomats. That's a 50% increase.
Two sources said the Islamic state may have placed in position nearly 350 machines since February - in addition to the almost 700 centrifuges already operating at the Fordow facility - but that they were not yet being used to refine uranium.

If confirmed in the next quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, tentatively expected on Friday, it is likely to be seen as a sign of continued defiance by the Islamic state of international demands to suspend such activity.

Getting Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20% - which it started in 2010 and has since sharply expanded - was a key priority for world powers in their talks with Iran in Baghdad on Wednesday.

Progress in Iran's nuclear program is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine how much time it would need to build nuclear bombs, should it decide to do so.

Fordow, estimated to be buried beneath 80 meters (265 feet) of rock and soil, gives Iran better protection against any Israeli or US military strikes and the shift of nuclear work to the site is of particular concern for the West.


Typically 174 centrifuges are needed for one production unit, but Iran has for its 20% enrichment work been using sets of two interconnected cascades, with each set containing 348 such machines, to increase efficiency.

It is operating two of those units at Fordow, as well as one at an above-ground site at Natanz in central Iran, and one more may now be nearing completion at Fordow, the sources said.

"Unless the Iranians feed it (with low-enriched uranium) at the last minute, it is installed but not yet fed, so maybe not quite ready yet," one diplomat said about the new unit.

Iran has earlier suggested it would close down the production of 20% at Natanz - where the work started in 2010 - once Fordow was up and running. But it has yet to do so, Western diplomats say.
What could go wrong?

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