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Chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization clarifies nuclear needs

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, has explained the country's nuclear needs after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's comments created confusion in the media.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi speaks during his joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh in Amman May 7, 2013. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXZDG5

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, clarified the country’s nuclear needs July 8 after controversy erupted over comments by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about Iran's nuclear program needing 190,000 separative work units (SWU). The SWU, a complex unit, indicates energy input, enrichment and depletion levels.

“A current sensitive issue is the nuclear issue,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech to government officials July 7, adding that the opposing side has taken a maximalist position in the nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

“Their goal is that the Islamic Republic — in regard to the suitable enrichment capabilities, for instance, which is one of the issues — to be satisfied with 10,000 SWU,” he said, adding, “However, they started at 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU. Approximately 10,000 SWU is the output of approximately 10,000 centrifuges — from the outdated ones we’ve had and have. This is their goal.

“Our officials say that we need 190,000 SWU,” he continued. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country.”

Leader.ir, a website for the supreme leader, covered the speech but did not include the comment about Iran perhaps not needing the full level in the next one to five years. However, Khamenei.ir, which appears to have a closer relationship with the supreme leader’s office and is linked to his social media accounts, provides the full transcript — confirmed by a video of his speech — in which he states that he was addressing the country’s ultimate and not immediate nuclear needs.

After the confusion that reached even the Western media, Salehi gave interviews to a number of Iranian news agencies and even Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting to clarify the supreme leader's comments about the number of centrifuges Iran needs.

Our needs for an agreed time frame, for the next eight years, to secure annual fuel for Bushehr nuclear power plant, is approximately 190,000 SWU, so that after the end of the contract with Russia, fuel for this power plant, the Tehran research center and the Arak reactor is secured,” Salehi told Islamic Republic News Agency.

“We don’t define the enrichment needs on the basis of the number of centrifuge machines, but based on their units, meaning we define it by its SWU,” Salehi said. “It is based on the type of centrifuge machine to see how much centrifuge machines equals 190,000 SWU.”

“If the capacity of each centrifuge is three SWU, approximately 60,000 centrifuges are needed,” he said. “If the ability of each centrifuge is 10 SWU, we need 19,000 centrifuges. If the machines of the centrifuge from our latest generation have the ability of 24 SWU, we need less than 10,000 centrifuges.”

When asked, “What are our needs based on the current centrifuges, given that the latest generation of centrifuges with the capacity of 24 SWU have not reached mass production?” Salehi responded, “Based on designs, the ability of current centrifuges, which are first generation, are approximately three or so, which in reality is less than two SWU.” He said for the most advanced centrifuges of 24 SWU to reach mass production, “several technical stages are required.”

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