Iran had no intention of building 10 new nuclear facilities until it was strongly rebuked by the U.N. nuclear watchdog over its nuclear activities, a top official said Monday.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi told state radio that Iran needed to give a strong response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's resolution Friday demanding that Iran halt to construction of its newly revealed uranium enrichment facility and end all other enrichment activities.
A Cabinet meeting headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sundayto build 10 industrial scale uranium enrichment facilities, a 10-fold expansion of the nuclear program that will likely significantly heighten tensions with the West.
The U.S. and its allies fear the facilities give Iran the capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material and have called for an immediate halt to Iran's enrichment of uranium.
Iran has rejected such claims, saying its uranium enrichment facilities will only produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
The Cabinet ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin building new facilities at five sites that have already been studied and propose five other locations for future construction within two months.
The new sites are to be on the same scale of Iran's only other industrial enrichment plant currently in operation, near the town of Natanz in central Iran.
"We had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site, but apparently the West doesn't want to understand Iran's peaceful message," Salehi said.
Salehi, who is also the head of Iran's nuclear program, said the IAEA resolution backed by six world powers left no option for Iran but to give a firm response.
"The action by 5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany) at the IAEA prompted the (Iranian) government to approve a proposal to build 10 sites like that of Natanz," he said.
Iran aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. Iranian officials say the new enrichment facilities are needed to produce enough fuel for its future nuclear power plants.
Ahmadinejad told the Cabinet that Iran will need to install 500,000 centrifuges at the planned facilities to produce between 250 to 300 tons of fuel annually.
"We require multiple sites to produce nuclear fuel for us. We need at least ten new sites," Ahmadinejad said in comments broadcast on state TV Monday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this month that about 8,600 centrifuges had been set up in Natanz, but only about 4,000 were enriching uranium. The facility is designed to eventually house 54,000 centrifuges.
But Iran's newly revealed enrichment site, which set off the latest cycle of concern and criticism over Tehran's nuclear intentions, is a small scale site near the holy city of Qom that will house 3,000 centrifuges.