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Iran enriches uranium at new site

Iran has begun uranium enrichment at a new underground site protected from possible airstrikes, a leading hardline newspaper has reported.

Kayhan daily, which is close to Iran's ruling clerics, said Tehran has begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom.

Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Iran's dispute with the West. The technology can be used to produce nuclear fuel, but also materials for atomic bombs.

The US and other countries accuse Iran of developing weapons, but Tehran says it only seeks reactors for energy and research, and refuses to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

"Kayhan received reports yesterday that show Iran has begun uranium enrichment at the Fordo facility amid heightened foreign enemy threats," the paper said in a front-page report. Kayhan's manager is a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran has a major uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in central Iran where nearly 8,000 centrifuges are operating. Tehran began enrichment at Natanz in April 2006.

The Fordo centrifuges however are reportedly more efficient, and the site better shielded from aerial attack.

Built next to a military complex, Fordo was long kept secret and was only acknowledged by Iran after it was identified by Western intelligence agencies in September 2009.

Both the US and Israel have not ruled out a military strike should Iran continue with its programme.

Tehran however says it needs its enrichment programme to produce fuel for future nuclear reactors and medical radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.

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