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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran enters industrial stage in nuclear fuel production

RIA Novosti

09/04/2007 20:15

TEHRAN, April 9 (RIA Novosti) - Iran has started industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel, the Islamic Republic's president said Monday.

Since Iran resumed uranium enrichment in January 2006, the country has been the focus of international concerns, as some Western countries, particularly the U.S., suspect Tehran is pursuing a covert weapons program. But Tehran has consistently claimed it needs nuclear power for civilian power generation and is fully entitled to its own nuclear program.

"I want to declare with honor that the Islamic Republic of Iran has joined the number of countries producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said while visiting the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz.

Ahmadinejad said Iran has the right to produce nuclear fuel in line with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and added that Iran is acting in line with international laws and under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He also said Iran will not succumb to pressure from the international community and will keep implementing its nuclear program.

Iran's vice president earlier said his country is entering an industrial stage in nuclear fuel production.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, said at celebrations to honor the national day of nuclear technology in Iran: "Today we gathered to celebrate the entrance of the uranium enrichment project into an industrial stage."

Speaking at the ceremony at the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, the vice president said that Iran needs nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants.

He said Iran's own scientists had mastered nuclear technologies, and that it was done at minimum cost.

"Despite earlier undertaken commitments, no foreign specialist or company contributed to Iranian scientists mastering nuclear technologies," Aghazadeh said.

A year ago, Tehran officially declared its nuclear experts managed to enrich uranium to 3.5%, which means they received low-enriched uranium required to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. A month later, Aghazadeh said Iranians enriched uranium to 4.8%.

On February 11, Ahmadinejad promised Tehran would announce "great and unprecedented successes" in the nuclear sphere by April 9.

An expert with the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Nuclear Reactors said the Iranian president's statement that his country reached industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel was very doubtful.

"On the one hand, Iran is capable of enriching some quantity of uranium to 4.5%, but on the other, it is practically impossible to speak of industrial-scale enrichment, as it requires the necessary power capabilities."

As for the launch of 3,000 centrifuges at the underground nuclear center in Natanz, he said, "They [the Iranians] could actually have made centrifuges, but not of very good quality."

Earlier Monday Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said Iran has increased the number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility to up to 3,000.

"A centrifuge is a very complicated mechanism and its production requires precise mechanisms and special technologies," the expert said. "It is unclear whether Iran has such technologies."

Another Russian expert with Techsnabexport, Russia's state-run nuclear exporter, also doubted that Iran is capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment production.

"The question is what they [the Iranians] understand to mean industrial-scale [nuclear] fuel production," the expert said. "According to preliminary estimations power capacities of their enrichment centrifuges are by several times lower than in any other country which possess nuclear-fuel cycle. It will take Iran from four to five years in order to obtain enough fuel for one reactor using current [centrifuge] power capacities."

The UN Security Council voted unanimously March 24 to impose new sanctions against the Islamic Republic for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

The new UN Security Council resolution was passed following Tehran's refusal to comply with the previous resolution adopted December 23, 2006.

The new resolution freezes the foreign accounts of 13 companies and 15 individuals involved in uranium enrichment and missile development projects, imposes visa restrictions and bans arms exports from Iran. It also threatens new sanctions if Iran does not comply with the resolution within 60 days, and urges the Islamic Republic to return to negotiations.

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