PARIS — The top Iranian atomic energy official was quoted Wednesday as saying that his country had begun to install more sophisticated enrichment devices at its Natanz nuclear site. The development coincided with the start of a new round of talks with negotiators from the UN nuclear watchdog.
Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, said scientists began putting in the new centrifuges last month, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency.
“We have produced the machines as planned, and we are carrying out the installation gradually, to complete the tests relevant to the new generation,” he was quoted as saying.
Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear regulatory body, late last month that it planned to install the new equipment at Natanz, southeast of Tehran, to speed up the production of enriched uranium, a move that seemed likely to worry the United States, Israel, and the West.
But another Iranian news agency, Fars, quoted Abbasi as saying that the new centrifuges were designed to enrich uranium to a purity of less than 5 percent, not to the 20 percent level that prompts concerns about use in nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Iran said that it was converting some of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium into reactor fuel. Diplomats in Vienna said that once that is done, it is difficult to reconvert it for weapons. Some analysts contend that, by slowing the growth of its stockpile, Tehran could be delaying the moment when it reaches a size large enough to prompt military action by Israel, which has signaled readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear sites preemptively. Iran denies that it is seeking the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon.