by CNN Wire Staff
Iran started enriching uranium at a new nuclear facility in the north that is "immune to any military attack," according to a fundamentalist newspaper with ties to the nation's supreme leader.
"Based on reports we received yesterday, Iran has begun uranium enrichment at the Fordo facility at the height of the threats by foreign enemies," the semi-official Kayhan newspaper said Sunday.
The Fordo nuclear enrichment plant is in the mountains of Qom province, where Iran says it has 3,000 centrifuges in operation. Another nuclear facility in Natanz is said to have 8,000 of the machines enriching uranium.
Iran says there's a medical purpose behind the nuclear program.
U.S. sanctions hurting Iran's currency "In order to provide medical assistance to 800,000 cancer patients, Iran needs to enrich uranium up to 20% to be able to feed Tehran's (research) reactor that produces the needed radio isotopes," the paper reported.
The Iranian government announced in July that it was installing a new generation of centrifuges in its nuclear facilities.
At the time, the French Foreign Ministry called the development "a new wave of provocation" that flouts United Nations resolutions.
Enriched uranium at low concentrations can be used to fuel power plants, and in extremely high concentrations it can be used to produce a nuclear bomb. Uranium enriched to between 3% and 5% is necessary to make fuel for reactors. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to about 90%.
Iran's development of missile and nuclear fuel technology has led to United Nations sanctions and accusations from Washington that the clerical regime is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Officials in the United States and other Western nations have ratcheted up sanctions against Iran since a November report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said the Iranian government was developing the technology needed to build a nuclear weapon. Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iran's central bank.