Monday, May 29, 2006

Iran says research on nuclear fusion progressing

Iran is pressing ahead with research tests on nuclear fusion, a type of atomic reaction which has yet to be developed for commercial power generation, a senior Iranian official said on Monday.

Iran said in the 1990s it was working on nuclear fusion research but this is the first mention in years that the work is continuing and comes at a time of heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has been hauled before the U.N. Security Council for failing to convince the world that its atomic work is not being used to make bombs. Tehran insists it only wants to generate electricity.

"Iran has done various fusion tests for research purposes at its Amirabad research reactor over the last few years," the official told Reuters, referring to the reactor in central Tehran, adding that Iran was continuing to carry out such tests.

"We do fusion tests for research purposes from time to time," he said.

Commercial nuclear reactors rely on nuclear fission, a process that generates energy from splitting atoms.

Fusion tries to generate power by joining nuclei of atoms together, but scientists have yet to develop a commercial way of doing this so that it produces more energy than it consumes.

Each development in Iran's nuclear program is scrutinized by the international community. Iran surprised experts in April by announcing it had enriched uranium for the first time in small quantities to the level used in nuclear power plants.

As long ago as 1996, the then Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran was pressing ahead with research on nuclear fusion.

In 1999, Canada said it had blocked a plan to sell its experimental nuclear fusion program to Iran because it could be used to make atomic bombs.

Nuclear arms incorporating fusion are also called thermonuclear bombs. READ MORE