Friday, February 12, 2010
Nuclear chief: Iran enriched uranium to 20%
Iran's nuclear chief confirms that the country has produced its first batch of higher-enriched uranium for use in a medical-research reactor in Tehran.
This comes after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had announced on Thursday that the country has successfully managed to complete production of its first stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
"We have produced the first batch of 20 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz enrichment facility," Ahmadinejad said at a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran.
Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Director Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed the announcement later in the day, adding that the process has the capacity to produce an estimated amount of three to five kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium per month.
Iran has requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to arrange for supplying of the fuel to the country. The West has been pressuring Iran to accept a UN-backed draft deal which requires Iran to send most of its domestically-produced low enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion into the more refined fuel that the Tehran reactor requires to produce medical isotopes.
Iran says its concerns over the proposal, which was first floated by the US, should be heeded. The development come as Tehran says is still ready to negotiate over the issue and has been trying to find a middle ground with the West over the nuclear swap.
Iran needs 120 kg (264 lb) of 20 percent-enriched uranium to fuel the Tehran research reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients and is soon to run out of fuel.
If the reactor's fuel completely dries up, there will be heavy consequences for thousands of Iranian patients, who desperately need post-surgery drug treatment with nuclear medicine.
On Tuesday, Iran began enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent at its Natanz enrichment facility under the surveillance of the UN nuclear watchdog.
The news has been greeted with skepticism, and somewhat fury, by Western powers — particularly the United States, which has for years been under the impression that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons in the long run.
In response to the growing Western pressure, Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh has asserted that the Tehran government reserves the right to produce higher-enriched uranium.
"Iran has the right to enrich uranium to 20 percent to provide fuel for the Tehran research reactor," Soltanieh said in an interview with the Al-Alam News Network on Wednesday.