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Iran to begin 2nd atom fuel network in days - agency

Written by: Staff

TEHRAN, Oct 25 (Reuters) Iran will start feeding uranium gas into a second network of centrifuges in days, an Iranian news agency said today, expanding a programme which Western powers fear is intended to make atomic bombs.

The interconnected centrifuges can enrich uranium for making fuel for power plants or for nuclear bombs. Iran says it wants only to make electricity but has failed to convince world powers who are holding out the threat of United Nations sanctions.

European Union powers started circulating a draft resolution for the U N Security Council yesterday to ban transfers of nuclear and missile-related technology and materials.

Diplomats told Reuters on Monday that Tehran had begun ''dry-testing'' a second network, known as cascades, of 164 centrifuges to go with a maiden cascade that yielded Iran's first batch of enriched uranium suitable for power plant fuel.

The Iranian student news agency ISNA quoted an informed source as confirming the second cascade had been installed at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant two weeks ago.

It said the next important stage of work, injections of uranium UF-6 gas, would be done this week.

''Soon after injection of the gas, we will obtain the product of the second ... cascade,'' ISNA quoted the source as saying.

The first cascade of 164 centrifuges -- cylindrical machines that create nuclear fuel by whirling at supersonic speeds -- produced a tiny amount of low-enriched uranium in April.

Iran would need thousands of centrifuges spinning non stop for months to enrich uranium to the high level that would detonate a bomb. Experts say that could be three to ten years away.

But Western powers fear Iranian advances could accelerate once Tehran has mastered a pilot programme and worry that Iran may have clandestine operations unknown to U N inspectors.

CHASM OF MISTRUST Western leaders resorted to a sanctions resolution after talks failed with Iran, OPEC's second largest crude oil exporter. But discord between Western powers and Russia and China over whether to punish Iran, and between the United States and EU allies over how tough to be, has delayed U N action.

Britain, France and Germany have begun circulating the draft sanctions resolution even though not all of its measures have been settled with Washington.

They disagree over a U S demand that Russia be forced to stop building Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr in the southwest, U S officials and European diplomats said.

The draft exempts construction of Bushehr and seems to allow 1,500 Russians to continue work there, an EU diplomat said.

The exemption did not extend to fuel deliveries, diplomats said, meaning Russia would not be able to fire up the reactor.

U S Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said during a visit to Colombia he did not think the Bushehr issue would be a major stumbling block.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ''a very senior'' Chinese government official discussed the draft yesterday.

''We are working very closely with all the permanent members of the Security Council to make sure we get this back in front of the Security Council and get a proper, binding resolution,'' Blair told British parliament.

Russia and China, like the United States, France and Britain, are permanent veto-wielding Security Council members.

The European-drafted resolution would ban most nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran, according to portions of a draft version read to Reuters. It would halt overseas financial transactions and travel by Iranians involved in the nuclear programme, except for certain humanitarian-related trips.


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