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Two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) censured Iran for its nuclear program, the Islamic Republic announced Sunday that it would build another 10 uranium enrichment plants the size of the Natanz facility already in operation.
Iran's Mehr News agency reports that construction of five facilities could begin within two months. In a speech on Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the facilities were necessary to meet the country's goal to eventually generate up to 20,000 megawatt-hours of electricity every year. The new program would also require an additional 500,000 new centrifuges.
More than powering Iran, or even potentially creating nuclear weapons – as many in the international community fear Iran is trying to do – the program seems to be more bluster in the face of increasing diplomatic pressure than a realistic plan to develop the country's nuclear program. According to nuclear experts, the scope of Iran's proposal vastly exceeds the country's demonstrated capabilities.
Some experts have asserted that Iran simply does not have the industrial capabilities to produce the centrifuges required by the program, reports the Los Angeles Times. Currently Iran has installed only 8,000 centrifuges, far from the 500,000 required by the Cabinet's new program. Of those 8,000, only half are currently producing reactor-grade uranium, reports the Times. Iran expert Gary Sick told the paper that the proposed program would likely not be in place before 2030.
"If they actually mean it, given the pace of their production and installation of working centrifuges, we are looking at an extremely costly 20- or 30-year program, at best," said [Dr.]
Sick, a professor of Middle East studies at Columbia University who served on the National Security Council during Iran's 1979 revolution. "Words are easy. Implementation is hard."
Some of the claims made by Iran on Sunday – such as Mr. Ahmadinejad's threat to enrich uranium for a medical reactor at a higher level than that needed for nuclear fuel – simply don't make sense from a technical perspective, reported the BBC.
However, Iran cannot produce the fuel rods from such materials. Only France and Argentina can, according to experts. So again the motivation is not clear, beyond defiance.
The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, appeared to support this thesis when he said on an Iranian state-run radio that the government had not planned to build the facilities until it was criticized by the UN nuclear watchdog. The Jerusalem Post reports that Mr. Salehi and others in the Iranian government felt their country needed to "issue a strong response" to the IAEA resolution.
Iran's state-run Press TV reports that "some Western powers, spearheaded by the US, have been pressuring Iran to accept an inflexible nuclear draft deal." The agency reports that the agreement would require Iran's nuclear fuel to be shipped outside its borders for enrichment, but that there would be no guarantee that it would receive the fuel it requires.
"We had no plan to build many nuclear sites like [enrichment facility in the central city of] Natanz but it seems that the West do not want to comprehend Iran's message of peace," Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali-Akbar Salehi said.
"The West adopted an attitude toward Iran which made the Iranian government to pass the ratification on construction of ten sites similar to the Natanz enrichment facility," he added.