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Iran reaches milestone at key nuclear plant

Published on Nov 17, 2012 10:01 AM
In this April 8, 2008 file photo provided by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (centre), visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 322km south of the capital Teheran. Iran is set to sharply expand its uranium enrichment in an underground plant after installing all the centrifuges it was built for, a United Nations (UN) report said, a move likely to increase Western alarm about Teheran's nuclear course. -- PHOTO: AP

VIENNA (AFP) - Iran is on the cusp of being able to triple output of nuclear material that, if further treated, could be used in the core of a bomb, a new UN atomic agency report shows.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly update said that fitting out of the Fordo plant was now "complete" - despite extreme sanctions pressure.

Fordo, which Iran only told the IAEA about in 2009, began in 2011 to enrich uranium to purities of 20 per cent, a process that lies at the heart of the international community's concerns. Enriched to this level, uranium can be used to produce medical isotopes - Iran's stated intention - but when further enriched, a relatively easy process, it can go in a bomb.

If Iran uses the new machinery at Fordo to enrich uranium to 20-per cent levels - it has not told the IAEA whether this is its aim technically - production could increase from 15 kilos per month now to around 45 kilos, a source said. Experts say that around 250 kilos of 20-per cent uranium is needed to convert into enough 90-percent material for one nuclear weapon. However, deciding to "break out" and enrich to 90-per cent would quickly be detected by the IAEA, likely sparking military action by Israel and the United States.

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