Iran is making 5,000 centrifuges that can be used to produce enriched nuclear fuel for weapons and almost two-thirds of the machines are ready for use, an exiled Iranian opposition group said yesterday.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has reported accurately about Tehran's nuclear programme in the past, is the political wing of the militant People's Mujahideen Organisation (MKO) and is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation.

"In order to enrich uranium to weapons grade, the Iranian regime has been concentrating on ... manufacturing some 5,000 centrifuge machines,' Ali Safavi, an NCRI official, told a news conference in Brussels. Centrifuges purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants of weapons. A commercial enrichment plant typically has tens of thousands of centrifuges so 5,000 would be relatively small.

But they could however theoretically produce enough highly enriched uranium fuel for several bombs a year. "This will be the first phase for the ultimate goal of manufacturing 50,000 centrifuges which would enable them to enrich weapons grade uranium," Safavi said.