Iran Reportedly Installing Advanced Centrifuges

July 15, 2011

On July 15, Reuters reported that Iran is installing advanced centrifuges—the IR-2m and IR-4—into two 164-machine cascades at a pilot plant at Natanz. Installing and running 164-machine cascades of advanced centrifuges is an important step in the process of Iran more widely deploying these machines. Continued integration of these advanced machines into Iran’s enrichment program will increase its capability to quickly produce large quantities of 3.5 and 19.75 percent low enriched uranium. It also shortens the amount of time Iran would need to enrich uranium to weapon-grade, if it were to make the decision to do so.

Iran is installing these advanced centrifuges at the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Facility (PFEP), located at the Natanz enrichment site. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has previously noted in safeguards reports that Iran was preparing for the installation of two 164-machine cascades of the advanced designs at the PFEP, but as of the May 2011, those centrifuges had not yet been installed. Iran has indicated that its advanced machines have three times the enrichment output as the IR-1 centrifuge, the current design it uses to make both 3.5 and 19.75 percent uranium at Natanz.

The PFEP is configured to hold six 164-machine cascades. Iran currently uses one of the bays to test advanced centrifuges in smaller cascades. Iran uses one cascade of IR-1 machines to make 19.75 percent uranium, and another IR-1 cascade to recycle the tails in this process. The IAEA has noted in safeguards reports that Iran has prepared cascades 4 and 5 to house the 164-machine cascades of the IR-2m and the IR-4 centrifuges. Iran recently announced that it will also begin installing 164-machine cascades of advanced centrifuges at the hardened Fordow enrichment facility over the next several months.

If Iran deploys its advanced centrifuges as broadly as planned and as it increases its ability to make larger numbers of these advanced centrifuges at undeclared manufacturing facilities, the international community will need to strengthen its calls that Iran re-commit to more intrusive inspections provided by the IAEA Additional Protocol. It will also need to reexamine calculations of Iran’s capability to make weapon-grade uranium at declared or undeclared enrichment sites.

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