IRAN announced a huge escalation in its nuclear enrichment programme last night in defiance of major world powers.
Days after it was condemned by all five permanent members of the United Nations security council over its secret uranium plant, it announced it planned to build 10 more.
The Iranian cabinet, headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered the go-ahead for five enrichment plants which were already in the planning stages.
The cabinet also told the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran it had two months to find suitable sites for another five.
It said all would be on the same scale as Iran's major uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, which will eventually house 54,000 centrifuges.
Britain's Foreign Office and officials in the United States expressed "serious concern" over the latest announcement of a further enrichment programme. "Reports that Iran is considering building more enrichment facilities are clearly a matter of serious concern," a British spokesman said. "It would be a serious breach of five United Nations security council resolutions."
Ten new plants would be enough to produce 250-300 tonnes of enriched uranium a year. It currently has about one and a half tonnes from one enrichment plant in operation, at Natanz, enough to produce about one nuclear weapon.
Iran reacted with fury to a vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday to condemn the existence of a second uranium enrichment facility, under construction near Qom. The vote was backed even by Russia and China, previous supporters of Iran.
President Ahmadinejad said: "We have a friendly approach towards the world but at the same time we won't let anyone harm even one iota of the Iranian nation's rights."
"We have to reach to a level to produce 250 to 300 tonnes of 'nuclear fuel per year and in order to reach this aim we would use new centrifuges with a higher speed."
The IAEA fears that Iran will end its engagement with the international community on its nuclear programme, and even withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's vice-president and its nuclear chief, said the expansion was "a firm message" to the IAEA.
He told state television that the agency's censure was a challenge aimed at "measuring the resistance of the Iranian nation".
Any new plants would take years to build but the plans were seen as a statement that Iran was willing to risk further sanctions. Mr Ahmadinejad repeated assertions that Iran needed the enriched uranium to produce nuclear energy, rather than weapons.
The new programme will not accelerate Iran's ability to produce nuclear missiles but it was thought to be a warning to both the West, China and Russia.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said: "If true, this would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself.
"Time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear programme."
Iran is at risk of joining North Korea, as a "rogue state" actively pursuing enriched uranium programmes outside the IAEA's inspection programme.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, called for "a concentration of sanctions and pressure on the Iranian regime, which is vulnerable economically" to rein in its nuclear ambitions. Israel has not ruled out military strikes against Iranian nuclear sites. (©Daily Telegraph, London)