Iran’s Natanz reactor
Iran’s Natanz reactor. Photo by AP
Text size

Iran has increased its capacity to refine uranium by installing hundreds of more centrifuges at its Natanz plant, a UN nuclear agency report said on Wednesday, underlining Tehran's defiance of Western demands to curb the activity.

But, in a development that could help buy time for diplomacy between Iran and world powers, the IAEA report also showed limited growth of Iran's most sensitive nuclear stockpile and it remained below an Israeli "red line" for possible action.

Tehran's holding of medium-enriched uranium gas is closely watched as Israel says it must not amass enough for one bomb if further processed and has threatened air strikes if diplomacy and sanctions do not stop Iran's atomic drive.

The report by the IAEA indicated that Iran was pressing ahead with the construction of a research reactor that Western experts say could offer it a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course.

Earlier on Wednesday, diplomats said Tehran now has installed close to 700 high-tech centrifuges in an upgrade of its uranium enrichment program since the start of the year. That represents an increase of about 100 since mid-April, when diplomats first told The Associated Press that Iran was rapidly installing the equipment.

Tehran says it is enriching uranium only for peaceful uses. But the U.S. and its allies fear it may enrich to levels used for nuclear bombs. The Islamic Republic is under UN Security Council and other sanctions for refusing to stop enrichment and the International Atomic Energy Agency is attempting to probe suspicions it may have worked on nuclear weapons.