DUBAI – Iran has conducted mechanical tests on a new advanced machine to refine uranium, a senior official was quoted as saying on Wednesday a disclosure that may annoy Western states pushing Tehran to scale back its nuclear programme.
Iran's development of new centrifuges to replace its current breakdown-prone model is watched closely by Western officials as it could allow the Islamic Republic to amass potential atomic bomb material much faster.
Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and that it produces low-enriched uranium only to make fuel for a planned network of atomic energy plants. If processed to a high fissile concentration, uranium can be used for nuclear weapons.
"Manufacturing and production of new centrifuges is our right," said Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of the Iranian atomic energy. Iran's Fars news agency also quoted him as saying that Iran had carried out tests on its latest generation of centrifuge, the IR-8, but had not yet fed it with uranium gas.
UN nuclear agency reports this year showed Iran testing four other models under development at an above-ground Natanz nuclear site - IR-2m, IR-4, IR-6 and IR-6s - with uranium gas. In December, Iran informed the UN International Atomic Energy Agency that it planned to install a single IR-8, the IAEA said in May that it had observed a new casing at the site.
An interim accord struck late last year in Geneva between Iran and six world powers – designed to buy time for talks on a final nuclear deal – stipulated that Iran could not go beyond the centrifuge research and development (R&D) it has been conducting at the Natanz site, including testing of new models.
In a comment that Western officials may dispute, Salehi said that based on the Geneva agreement, research and development have no limit, Fars reported. "Mechanical tests (regarding the IR-8 centrifuge) have been done but gas has yet to be injected," he said, and this would require President Hassan Rouhani's permission.