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Iran to add hundreds of centrifuges to nuclear plan

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 9:22 p.m.

Iran has told U.N. nuclear officials that it plans to add potentially hundreds of next-generation centrifuge machines to its main uranium-enrichment plant, a move that could dramatically boost its ability to produce the fuel used in nuclear power plants and — potentially — in nuclear bombs.

The notification came in a letter last week in which Iran said it would begin installing the more powerful centrifuges at its Natanz plant south of Tehran, which already has been enriching uranium for nearly a decade, according to a Western diplomat briefed on the plans.

The new machine, the IR2M, is believed to be vastly superior to the clunky, 1970s-era IR1 machine that Iran uses, giving Iran the ability to produce up to four times as much enriched uranium per machine. Iran claims the enriched uranium would be used exclusively for nuclear power plants, but U.S. officials suspect that Iran is using nuclear energy to keep open its options to pursue a weapons program.

Iran's Jan. 23 letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency did not identify how many centrifuges it planned to install, or when the changes would occur. But U.N. officials inferred from the letter that hundreds of machines, if not more, would be added to one wing of the Natanz plant, according to the official, who insisted on anonymity in discussing confidential correspondence. The U.N. watchdog agency informed member states about Iran's plans in an internal memo and said it was pressing Iranian officials for details, the diplomat said.

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