Iran Announces Construction of New Nuclear Site
Uranium enrichment factories are used to create fuel for nuclear power plants but can also, if taken to extremes, produce the material for weapons.
The planned plant is among 10 new sites that Iran approved last year in what would be a dramatic expansion of its controversial enrichment program. The announcement on state TV said the locations for the sites have been determined but gave no details.
"Construction of a new uranium enrichment site will begin by the end of (the Iranian calendar) year (March 2011) or early next year," Salehi said.
"The new enrichment facilities will be built inside mountains ... any of these sites will be capable of meeting the fuel needs of a nuclear power plant the size of the Bushehr facility," he told the TV, referring to the 1,000-megawatt power plant in southern Iran built with Russian help.
Russia will begin loading fuel into the plant on Saturday with a view to it going online by the last weeks of September.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has denied the accusation, saying its nuclear program is geared merely towards generating electricity.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman Steve Field said Monday that Salehi's announcement was a cause for concern. "The reports that we have seen this morning certainly do not give us any comfort that Iran is moving in the right direction," Field told reporters
Iran has an industrial-scale enrichment site in Natanz, in central Iran, with around 6,000 operating centrifuges and a smaller one under construction near Qom. The Islamic republic said it needs 20 large-scale sites to meet domestic electricity needs of 20,000 megawatts in the next 15 years.
The Qom facility, built inside a mountain for maximum protection from possible aerial attack, is a smaller version of Natanz and is not yet operational. Revelations about the existence of the previously secret facility deepened Western suspicions over the Iranian enrichment program.
Iran says it will install a new generation of more efficient centrifuges at the Qom facility. The new centrifuges would be more advanced than the decades old P-1 type centrifuges once acquired on the black market and in use at Natanz.