“Iran has continued to install IR-2m centrifuges in one of the units” at the Natanz site in central Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in its quarterly report, seen by AFP.
The Islamic republic now has 1,008 high-tech IR-2M centrifuges, up from 689 cited in the IAEA’s last report in May.
These were however “under vacuum”, the report said. “None of the IR-2m centrifuges… had been fed” with natural uranium, it explained.
The IR-2 centrifuges are of particular concern as they would allow Tehran to enrich uranium at a faster rate, allowing it to obtain the amount of fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb more quickly, if it wished to go down that path.
Western countries suspect Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb but Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes.
Earlier Wednesday, the IAEA said that talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme would resume on September 27.
The talks were held up by presidential elections in Iran in June.
“Given the nature and extent of credible information available to the Agency about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme, it remains essential and urgent for Iran to engage with it on the substance of the Agency’s concerns,” the report said of the upcoming meeting.
Parallel talks between Tehran and the six powers — the so-called P5+1 composed of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — have also been stalled since April.
The international community fears that Iran is seeking to enrich uranium to levels of purity that would be required for a bomb.
On top of the new-generation IR-2m centrifuges, Iran was also installing more of the older IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz: the figure was now 15,416 from 13,555 three months ago.
At the Arak heavy-water reactor, another site of concern as it could produce plutonium for a nuclear device, the reactor vessel has been “placed into position” although other components had yet to be installed.
The IAEA said Iran had informed it that the reactor’s planned start date in the first quarter of 2014 was “not achievable.”
Still the watchdog deplored Tehran’s failure since 2006 to provide up-to-date design information about the site, which “is having an increasingly adverse impact on the Agency’s ability to verify” developments there.
Iran has been hit by four rounds of UN sanctions, as well as EU and US sanctions on its oil and banking sectors. The UN Security Council has also passed several resolutions urging it to halt enrichment.
Western powers hope however that Iran’s new president Hassan Rowhani, who replaced the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could breathe new life into efforts to resolve the nuclear issue.
On August 6, he said Iran was ready for “serious” talks on its nuclear programme without delay.
During his role as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, Rowhani accepted the suspension of the enrichment programme.
An international official close to the dossier said the agency would be “anxious to see” how negotiations will be carried out under the new president and “how that is going to affect” talks.
The report by the IAEA’s director-general Yukiya Amano comes ahead of a meeting of the watchdog’s 35-member board of governors on September 9-13 in Vienna.