Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Iran Pleased with Nuclear Fuel Research

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday the Islamic Republic's research on atomic enrichment was proceeding well and that the programme was on track to be expanded later this year.

"Things are going well," Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, said in an interview with Reuters about the country's uranium enrichment research and development (R&D) programme. READ MORE

Tehran says it only wants to produce fuel for peaceful nuclear power generation, not atomic bombs as the West suspects.

The United States, European Union, Russia and China and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei have all urged Iran to freeze enrichment activities to build confidence that the programme is peaceful.

But Soltaniyeh said Iran would never give up enrichment.

He also said a U.S. suggestion that Iran could be stopped from mastering the art of enrichment -- a process of purifying uranium for use in power plants or weapons -- was incorrect.

"The public have been somehow misled with information that is not right. The Americans said you have to stop the Iranians before they get the know-how. We do have the know-how of enrichment," he said on the sidelines of a conference hosted by the Peace Research Institute think-tank, based in Frankfurt.

"The (enrichment) R&D is continuing. That is what the Agency (IAEA) is aware of and the inspectors are continuously monitoring it. The inspectors were in Natanz last week and they continue to monitor all the activities in R&D," Soltaniyeh said.

Iran has installed and connected 164 centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant in central Iran and is planning to test it soon, diplomats in Vienna said last week.


Soltaniyeh declined to say when Iran would begin testing the 164-centrifuge cascade with uranium hexafluoride gas, the form of uranium fed into centrifuges during the enrichment process.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Germany and the five permanent Security Council members -- France, Britain, United States, Russia and China -- will meet in Berlin to try to break the deadlock over a draft Council statement on Iran that would call on it to resume an enrichment freeze it ended in January.

Soltaniyeh, a nuclear physicist who has been involved in Iran's atomic programme for around three decades, said there was no justification for the IAEA passing the Iran nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council.

"This issue should be returned to the IAEA," he said.

He also said Tehran was on track to begin installing more centrifuges for a much larger scale enrichment research programme in the final quarter of this year.

"We have voluntarily informed the Agency well in advance ... that in the fourth quarter of 2006 we will go for the next stage of these R&D activities -- 3,000 centrifuges," Soltaniyeh said.

A plant with 3,000 centrifuges of the kind Iran has installed at Natanz could produce enough bomb-grade uranium for a single atomic weapon if operating at full capacity for a year.

Iran concealed its enrichment programme from the IAEA for 18 years. The existence of Natanz was revealed by a group of Iranian exiles in August 2002.