UN team to visit Iran uranium plant

TEHRAN: UN inspectors were on Sunday set to visit a second Iranian plant for uranium enrichment, which lies at the heart of Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear programme.

The team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scientists, who arrived here early Sunday, will spend three days in Iran as they inspect the facility being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom, south of the capital Tehran.

Tehran told the international community about the plant on September 21, around a year after it began building it, triggering widespread global outrage.

The IAEA criticised the late disclosure, while US President Barack Obama warned Iran would face "increased pressure" if it does not come clean on its nuclear activities.

Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear programme. It produces fuel for civilian reactors, but in highly extended form can also make the fissile core of an atomic weapon.

Western powers led by Washington suspect Tehran is enriching uranium with the ultimate aim of making the bomb, a charge Iran strongly denies.

Iran has been enriching uranium at a separate facility in Natanz for several years in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions.

Officials claim new generation centrifuges -- the devices which spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium -- would be installed at Qom.

Mehr news agency, quoting an unnamed Vienna-based official, said the inspectors will visit only the Qom facility.

"The IAEA representatives will compare the information given by Iran (about the Qom plant) with the facility during their three-day visit," the official said.

The inspection has gained further significance after Tehran delayed on Friday its response to an IAEA deal under which Iran would ship its existing stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia.

The full details of the proposed deal have not been released, but France has said it calls on Iran to transfer 1,200 kilos of LEU from its Natanz plant to Russia by the end of 2009.

Russia would then enrich the material to the higher 19.75 percent needed for use in a Tehran research reactor which makes radio-isotopes for medical use.

Diplomats say Moscow would sub-contract to France the process of turning this Russian-enriched uranium into fuel rods for the reactor.