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Iran will build uranium enrichment centers, nuclear chief says

By the CNN Wire Staff
Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi (R) and Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko hold a press conference  at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in November last year.
Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi (R) and Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko hold a press conference at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in November last year.
  • Iran plans to expand uranium enrichment facilities
  • Russia to deliver enriched fuel to Iranian nuclear plant by next week
  • White House questions Iran's motives

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran plans to begin construction of 10 uranium enrichment centers across the country by next year, state-run media is quoting Iran's nuclear chief as saying.

After a cabinet meeting Sunday, Ali Akbar Salehi told IRIB, a state network, that work on one of the centers will be started by March 2011.

Over the weekend, a top Iranian lawmaker defended his nation's right to enrich uranium in the future after Iran and Russia confirmed that Russians will start loading a nuclear reactor in the Islamic republic with fuel next week.

The August 21 arrival of fuel at the Bushehr facility, which Iran says will create atomic energy but other nations fear could be used for nuclear weapons, marks a key step toward its completion, Russia said Saturday, according to Iranian media.

The progress prompted the White House to question Iran continuing to enrich uranium within its borders, even as the project with Russia moves closer to completion.

"Russia is providing the fuel, and taking the fuel back out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday.

"It, quite clearly, I think, underscores that Iran does not need its own enrichment capability if its intentions, as it states, are for a peaceful nuclear program," he said.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, responded Saturday by saying that Moscow will supply enriched uranium for the Bushehr plant as Iran plans to build a dozen more nuclear plants in the future, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

"We in the parliament have tasked the government with producing 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity. That means setting up 20 power plants like Bushehr," said Boroujerdi. "To supply the fuel needed for these power plants ... we should carry out (uranium) enrichment and we are doing it," he said.

The head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency will visit Iran next week, Fars reported Friday. A Russian group is already in Iran to make the necessary arrangements for his arrival.

"This event will symbolize that the period of testing is over and the stage of physical start-up has begun," said Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency.

The reactor in the western Iranian port city of Bushehr will be operational by the third week of September, Fars said, though Novikov said the plant will not be ready to produce energy for another six months.

The United States has urged Russia to wait, saying more evidence is needed that Iran doesn't plan to use the site to make weapons.

Novikov said the fuel's arrival and loading into the plant will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The IAEA inspectors will remove seals from containers with nuclear fuel, examine it," he said. "The fuel will be then transferred into a special storage facility. And when the Iranian nuclear watchdog agency gives its permission, the fuel will be loaded into the reactor."

Western corporations began the Bushehr facility in the 1970s but after the Iranian revolutions, the Islamic regime looked to Russia to complete the $800 million nuclear facility.

Iran has maintained all along that the site will produce energy, but the United States and other international observers remain unconvinced.

Earlier this month, the United States extended sanctions against Iran, saying it was targeting a number of Iranian businesses and groups accused of helping organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban.

In June, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions targeting the country's nuclear and missile programs -- identifying more than 20 companies and several individuals allegedly involved with those programs.