TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday it needed 20 uranium enrichment plants to provide fuel for its nuclear power plants, an announcement likely to heighten tension with six major powers over the Islamic state's nuclear ambitions.
"To provide fuel for our nuclear power plants, we need to have 20 uranium enrichment plants," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying.
In a defiant response to last week's International Atomic Energy Agency vote rebuking Iran for building a second enrichment plant in secret, Tehran said on Sunday it would build 10 more sites like its Natanz underground one monitored by the
Iran has one nuclear power plant, under construction by Russia. Analysts say Iran will need many years if not decades for such a major expansion of its enrichment capability.
The IAEA resolution urged Iran to stop all activities related to enrichment, allow unfettered IAEA inspections and guarantee it is not hiding more sites.
Western powers have warned Iran it is rapidly approaching an end-of-year deadline to accept a U.N.-drafted nuclear fuel deal which calls on Tehran to send 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Natanz to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for a Tehran medical research reactor.
The proposal to farm out most of Iran's LEU reserves is aimed at minimizing the risk of the country refining the material to the 80-90 percent grade suitable for a bomb.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the fuel exchange proposal was still on the table, state radio reported on Saturday.
"We have three options ... we produce fuel, or exchange it (inside Iran) or buy it from another country," Mottaki said.
Iran says its enriched uranium is only for electricity generation. But the country's record of nuclear secrecy and lack of power plants to use the low-enriched uranium has convinced the West that Iran is hiding a program to develop nuclear weapons capacity.
Iran added to the West's concerns on Friday by saying it will provide the IAEA with the bare minimum of information about its plan to build new sites.
Iran's parliament said on Thursday the Islamic state will review its co-operation level with countries that voted against its nuclear activities at the IAEA.
The measure passed by a 25-3 margin with six abstentions, smoothed by rare backing from Russia and China, which have blocked global attempts to isolate Iran in the past.
Mottaki downplayed the threat.
"They still have time to correct their mistake and return to the right path," Mottaki said without elaborating.
Iran dismissed on Saturday France's Total from investing in development of the country's phase 11 of the South Pars gas field, state television reported. It was unclear whether that move was related to the threat of retaliation, however.
Salehi accused the West of maneuvering to force Iran to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), saying "Iran has no plans to pull out of the NPT."
Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall