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Iran authorizes 10 new uranium plants

Five new uranium enrichment plants will be similar to Iran's current plant in Natanz, the state news agency says.
Five new uranium enrichment plants will be similar to Iran's current plant in Natanz, the state news agency says.
  • Iranian president says new plants will produce fuel for civilian power plants
  • Cabinet approves five plants like existing one, says to start planning for five more
  • "Time is running out for Iran to address ... concerns," White House says
  • Move comes days after U.N. nuclear watchdog told Iran to stop work on nuke facility

(CNN) -- Iran's Cabinet has authorized the construction of another 10 uranium enrichment plants, its state news agency announced Sunday, further defying international calls to halt its production of nuclear fuel.

The Iranian Cabinet approved existing plans for five more facilities similar to its current plant at Natanz and ordered planning for five more to begin, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The dispatch quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that the new plants will be used to produce fuel for civilian nuclear power stations.

The move comes two days after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, passed a resolution demanding that Iran stop construction on a previously secret nuclear facility at Qom. The agency also repeated calls for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program.

The IAEA said it would not comment on Sunday's announcement. But in Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the announcement "another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself."

"The international community has made clear that Iran has rights, but with those rights come responsibilities," Gibbs said in a written statement. "As the overwhelming IAEA board of governors vote made clear, time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear program."

Enriched uranium can be used to fuel power plants -- or, if enriched to a much higher concentration, it can be used to make a nuclear bomb.

Iran has said its uranium enrichment program is aimed at producing fuel for civilian power plants. But the United States and other countries have accused Tehran of working toward nuclear weapons, and the IAEA's Friday resolution stated that Iran's refusal to comply with international demands "does not contribute to the building of confidence."

Video: Iran to expand nuclear program
Video: Report: Iran OKs new enrichment plants

The resolution had the support of Russia and China -- which had resisted earlier efforts to impose strong sanctions on Iran -- as well as the United States, Britain, France and Germany. The United States warned Friday that it was prepared to push for significantly stronger economic sanctions on Tehran following the resolution, but said Iran could receive benefits if it fully discloses all nuclear activities to the IAEA.

Iran says it has a right to produce nuclear fuel under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bars member states from pursuing nuclear weapons and requires international inspectors to have access to nuclear facilities.

"We have friendly and kind relations with the whole world, but we will not allow even the slightest denial of Iran's rights," IRNA quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling government ministers.

And Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani criticized the IAEA resolution Sunday, warning that continued international pressure could force Iran "to seek another path which will seriously change our cooperation with the agency," IRNA reported.

Iran says the goal of the plants authorized Sunday would be to produce enough enriched uranium to yield about 20,000 megawatts of electricity a year. Iran currently has one nuclear power plant, which has yet to begin full operation, and announced plans in 2007 to build 19 more.

By comparison, 65 nuclear power plants in the United States produced about 800,000 megawatts of power in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In his final report to the IAEA's governing board, outgoing Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said the agency has been able to verify that no known stocks of nuclear fuel have been diverted from authorized uses. But he said inspectors "have effectively reached a dead end" without further Iranian cooperation.

"There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," he said.

In addition, Iran has so far refused to sign an agreement with France, Russia and the United States to send its uranium stocks abroad for enrichment in exchange for fuel for a research reactor that produces radioisotopes used for cancer treatment.

In Israel, which has called Iran's nuclear program to the dominant threat facing the country, there was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Sunday's development. Israel is believed to have its own nuclear arsenal, though it has never declared itself a nuclear power.

CNN's Kevin Flower and Per Nyberg contributed to this report.