Iran nuclear programme

Iran's outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said 5,000 new centrifuges are ready to start operating at the country's nuclear facilities. These are in addition to the 12,000 centrifuges already in operation.

"12,000 centrifuge machines are now running in our nuclear sites and 5,000 new centrifuges are ready to start operation," the hardline president told the country's IRIB1 TV.

The development has come despite Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressing concern over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

The IAEA said in June that Tehran was violating international regulations by increasing the number of centrifuges.

The West fears Iran is making steady progress towards nuclear weapons while the country insists its uranium enrichment was only for peaceful purposes.

Meanwhile, a US thinktank has noted that Iran may be able to achieve weapons-grade uranium by mid-2014.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said Iran could achieve this by installing thousands of centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow nuclear facilities.

"Iran could have time to make enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more nuclear weapons," says the ISIS in its July report.

Urging the IAEA to conduct inspections at the facilities more frequently, the report said: "IAEA inaction or caution could make an international response all but impossible before Iran has produced enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more nuclear weapons."

The report adds that "by themselves these measures are not sufficient if Iran reaches critical capability".

The American body, citing images of Iran's nuclear sites obtained from commercial satellites, had earlier said Tehran was trying to hide the links between its Lashkar Ab'ad nuclear facility and firms involved in laser technology.

At the Lashkar Ab'ad facility, experiments of enriching uranium through laser isotope separation have been conducted in the past. However, IAEA officials, who probed the facility, say laser is used for civilian purposes.

Ahmadinejad, while speaking elsewhere, also noted that the country had achieved the technology to enrich uranium to higher purity levels through lasers.