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Iran increasing uranium production capacity

Iran is set to double its uranium enrichment after completing a second underground facility, according to UN report. The move is likely to increase concern from Western nations over Iranian nuclear intentions.

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Friday shows that Iran installed the remaining 644 centrifuge machines at its Fordo underground facility in August, increasing its capacity for uranium enrichment.

Iran has now completed the nearly 2,800 centrifuges that the Fordo site was designed for, and is set to double the number of them operating from 700 to 1,400 according to the Vienna-based IAEA.

The IAEA report also said Iran continues to block access to sites, experts and documents linked to potential nuclear weapons development.

Concern from the West

Western leaders are concerned Iran could increase the level of uranium enrichment to a level that allows for the quick production of nuclear weapons. Iranian officials deny they are pursuing weapons, and say their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Another concern in the West is that according to the IAEA, Iran is decreasing the amount of uranium it converts into civilian reactor fuel since the previous report.

Iran's stockpile of uranium gas refined to a 20 percent fissile concentration has thus increased by half to 135 kilograms (297.6 pounds). But that level is still well below the 200-250 kilograms experts say would be sufficient for an atomic bomb if refined further.

Iran has produced 233 kilograms of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, including a 43-kilogram increase since August, the IAEA says. Of that amount, 96 kilograms have been converted into fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Using the uranium for such purposes makes it more difficult to process into 90 percent, or weapons grade, enriched uranium.

'Years, not months, away'

UN investigators suspect past and possibly ongoing military nuclear activity on the part of Iran, despite the country denying such claims. The report says "extensive activities" - alluding to possible evidence removal - at the Parchin military compound would undermine an agency investigation into potential nuclear weapons research.

It is "necessary to have access to this location without further delay," the report said.

The IAEA report gives more "troubling evidence that Iran is … slowly enhancing its nuclear weapons breakout potential," said the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy group. "However, Iran remains years, not months, away from having a workable nuclear arsenal if it were to choose to pursue that capability."

dr/ccp (Reuters, dpa, AP)