Monday, April 10, 2006

Iran Says to Give "Good News" on Atomic Progress

Parinoosh Arami, Reuters:
Iran's president on Monday promised "good news" within days about the country's nuclear programme and a newspaper said he might declare the Islamic Republic had enriched uranium to a level used in power plants. "I will give you, the Iranian nation, good nuclear news during the time I am in Mashhad," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in the northeastern city, where newspapers said he was expected to spend around five days.

His comments echoed remarks by other officials suggesting the imminent announcement of progress in Iran's nuclear programme, which the West fears is a cover to develop atomic weapons but which Iran insists is for civilian uses.

The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami wrote: "It was said the good news is related to Iran's achievement of uranium enrichment at 3.5 percent and creating a laboratory platform that will register Iran in the club of nuclear fuel countries." READ MORE

It gave no source or further details.

Uranium enriched to a low level can be used as fuel to generate electricity. Fuel for use in Iran's only nuclear plant now under construction would need to be enriched to 3.5 percent. Uranium must be enriched to far higher levels for bomb-making.

An announcement this week may coincide with a planned visit to Iran by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for talks that diplomats at the IAEA in Vienna said were likely to be held on Thursday.

Iran has resumed efforts to enrich uranium this year, defying demands by the United Nations that it halt such work.

"On this (nuclear) issue, it (Iran) will not step back one iota from the right of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad told a rally in Mashhad, on one of his regular provincial tours.

"Our enemies know that they are not able to inflict the slightest harm on our nation," he said in the address which was broadcast live on television.


The United States says it wants a diplomatic resolution to the dispute, but there has been rising speculation that it could resort to military force, an option Washington has kept open.

"Our enemies know that by creating a fuss or with these meetings or by frowning, they cannot impede our nation," the Iranian president told the crowd, which chanted back to him: "Nuclear energy is our absolute right."

European foreign ministers were meeting on Monday to review options for possible measures against Iran, including financial sanctions, if it fails to halt sensitive nuclear activity.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said in February Iran had started work on uranium fuel but on a very small scale involving injecting uranium gas into only a few centrifuges. He said Iran was still months away from starting a full pilot cascade of centrifuges.

Such chains, each containing 164 centrifuges, refine the uranium gas. Around 1,500 centrifuges running optimally for a year could yield enough material for a bomb, experts say.

An IAEA report in March said Iran had begun vacuum-testing a cascade of 20 centrifuges and was renovating its system for handling uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas at its Natanz plant.

Experts have said Iran could have serious difficulties in enriching uranium on an industrial scale because of quality problems with uranium hexafluoride gas. Some also doubt whether Iranian technicians can get the centrifuges to spin in cascades.