Iran's vice president said yesterday his country needed 20 industrial-scale uranium enrichment facilities, a potentially dramatic expansion of its nuclear programme in defiance of UN demands.

Ali Akbar Salehi, who also heads the nuclear programme, told the official IRNA news agency that Iran needed the sites to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.

The statement comes at a time of heightened Western concerns over Iran's nuclear intentions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran is considering whether to scale back co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency after it approved a resolution censuring Iran over its nuclear programme.

Tehran argues its nuclear programme is peaceful and insists it has a right to enrich uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The UN has demanded Iran freeze enrichment. Iran and the West are deadlocked over a UN proposal for Iran to send much of its enriched uranium abroad. The plan is aimed at drastically reducing Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium in hopes of thwarting the country's ability to potentially make a nuclear weapon. So far, Iran has balked at the offer.

Last week, Tehran ann­ounced it intended to build the 10 new sites, a statement that followed a strong rebuke from the Vienna-based IAEA.

It was not clear when or whether the government would approve the construction. But Iran's decision to dramatically expand its uranium enrichment programme and scale back co-operation with the IAEA is widely seen as a slap to Western efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear programme.