Iran Nuclear NewsIran declares major breakthroughs in nuclear drive

Iran declares major breakthroughs in nuclear drive

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ImageAFP: Iran Thursday declared major advances in its controversial nuclear drive as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened an atomic fuel plant and announced the testing of two high capacity centrifuges.

ImageISFAHAN, Iran (AFP) — Iran Thursday declared major advances in its controversial nuclear drive as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened an atomic fuel plant and announced the testing of two high capacity centrifuges.

Ahmadinejad's announcements at a function in central Isfahan province marking national nuclear day are likely to trigger fresh concerns among world powers, who fear Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at making atomic weapons.

Tehran insists its programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Ahmadinejad said Iran had notched up two achievements — the manufacture of nuclear fuel and "testing of two kinds of new centrifuges having greater capacity (to enrich uranium) than the existing ones."

He was speaking after cutting the ribbon at the fuel facility in Isfahan, which the Iranian news agency Mehr said can produce 10 tonnes of nuclear fuel annually to feed the heavy water 40-megawatt Arak reactor as well as 30 tonnes for light water reactors such as the Bushehr nuclear plant.

The opening of the fuel plant indicates that Iran has now mastered the complete nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining to enrichment, even as world powers urge the Islamic Republic to halt its programme completely.

"Today the nuclear fuel cycle has been practically completed and there is no room for the idea of halting (uranium) enrichment in the negotiations" with global powers, the head of Iran's parliamentary commission of national security and foreign policy, Alaeddin Borujerdi said after the plant was opened.

Speaking at the same function as Ahmadinejad, Iran's atomic chief Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said Iran had reached a "new phase (generation) of acquiring the technolgy of uranium enrichment."

"Today in Natanz there are around 7,000 centrifuges installed," he told the gathering.

Iran has a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in Isfahan province.

In its February 19 report, the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency said 3,964 centrifuges were actively enriching uranium in Natanz.

It said another 1,476 were undergoing vacuum or dry run tests without nuclear material, and an additional 125 centrifuges had been installed but remained stationary.

Uranium enrichment is at the heart of global fears that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons because the process can be used both to make nuclear fuel and the fissile core of an atom bomb.

World powers fear that Iran could configure the Arak plant in a way that it can be used to help make an atom bomb, but Tehran says the reactor is planned to make isotopes only for agricultural and health purposes.

Iran has defied five UN Security Council resolutions calling for a freeze in its enrichment activities, including three resolutions imposing sanctions.

In a bid to defuse tensions, six world powers led by Washington on Wednesday invited Iran for direct talks on the programme which Tehran insists is civilian and purely peaceful.

In a joint statement, the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been tasked to invite Iran for direct talks on its nuclear plans.

"We reaffirm our unity of purpose and collective determination through direct diplomacy to resolve our shared concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, in line with the package proposals for cooperation with Iran," they said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will participate fully in the talks.

"There's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its effort to obtain nuclear weapons," Clinton said.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a top advisor to Ahmadinejad, in response said on Thursday that Tehran will study the "constructive proposal" which "shows a change of approach (from the world powers)."

"We hope that this proposal means a change of approach to a more realistic attitude. The Islamic Republic of Iran will examine (it) and give its response."

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