Report Finds Iran Still Prepping To Enrich Uranium

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has stepped up its program to enrich uranium. It reports the country is installing more centrifuges in a heavily-defended underground site.

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Iran has made substantial progress this summer expanding its enrichment of uranium. That's the conclusion of a soon-to-be released report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. As NPR's Mike Shuster reports, the news will certainly add fuel to the heated debate about how to respond.

MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: The IAEA's official periodic update on Iran's nuclear activities has not yet been released and probably won't surface for a few days. But the IAEA has learned, through the regular visits of inspectors and other monitoring devices, that Iran is in the process of installing hundreds of additional gas centrifuges at an enrichment facility called Fordow.

The Fordow plant has been built inside a mountain to protect it from air attack. These new centrifuges are not yet producing enriched uranium, it is believed, and David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, questions just how far along the installation process is.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: We know that they've installed lots of what are called the outer casings of the centrifuge, but it's - it's unclear how many of the innards of the centrifuge have been installed.

SHUSTER: More important, says Albright, is an apparent finding that Iran is pressing forward with what is known as 20-percent low-enriched uranium. That is a lot closer to bomb-grade highly enriched uranium and requires fewer steps to reach that level.

Iran has said it needs the twenty-percent to fuel a research reactor in Tehran that makes nuclear medicine to treat cancer, but Iran has already made enough of that fuel to keep the reactor running. It's not clear why it wants to keep producing more, and that has David Albright worried.

ALBRIGHT: The production of the 20-percent is far out-stripping their need for 20-percent for the Tehran research reactor, and that's the fundamental concern.

SHUSTER: Iran's growing stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium is at the heart of the diplomatic process between Iran on the one hand and representatives from the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China on the other. Those talks have been under way since the spring, but they are stalled. The U.S. wants Iran to stop the production of 20-percent enriched uranium and send most of it out of the country. The full IAEA report is expected to be released sometime next week. Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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