Reuters: Iran initially enriched uranium from China but is now using domestically processed uranium in its nuclear programme, an Iranian diplomat said on Friday after some doubts were cast on his country’s recent enrichment claims. TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran initially enriched uranium from China but is now using domestically processed uranium in its nuclear programme, an Iranian diplomat said on Friday after some doubts were cast on his country’s recent enrichment claims.
Iran said last month it had enriched uranium to the level used in power stations for the first time, crediting its own scientists for the breakthrough. The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed this from samples taken in Iran.
But diplomats in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is based, said on Thursday that the processed uranium, uranium hexafluoride (UF6), that Iran purified was almost certainly Chinese UF6 and not Iranian.
“This is correct. Preliminary tests were made using UF6 bought from China but one week after that, we started to use the UF6 that we have produced in Isfahan and now the UF6 that is being used in Natanz facility for enrichment is our own product,” the Iranian diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity, told Reuters.
Iran’s uranium conversion facility which makes UF6 is in Isfahan, a city south of the capital, while enrichment takes place at the nearby site of Natanz.
Iran said in April that its Isfahan plant had stockpiled 110 tonnes of feedstock UF6 gas.
Vienna diplomats have said Iran has had difficulty producing good quality UF6. In September the material was of such poor quality that it would have damaged the centrifuges — machines that enrich uranium — had it been used, they said.
The sale to Iran of Chinese processed uranium would have come shortly before China joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992, binding Beijing to strict export controls.
A diplomat from the European Union accredited to the IAEA said Iran had probably chosen to use the better Chinese UF6 to hasten the process so President Mahmoud Ahmadinejdad could announce to the world without delay Iran’s enrichment success.
Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium for use in nuclear power plants or, when very highly enriched, in bombs.
The European Union and United States believe Iran is secretly developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy programme. Iran says its programme is solely aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity.
The IAEA has found no hard proof of any project to make atomic bombs but says that, after more than three years of probing, it still cannot confirm that Iran’s intentions are entirely peaceful.
IAEA inspectors routinely visit Iran to monitor nuclear facilities but, after Iran’s case was sent to the U.N. Security Council, Tehran stopped allowing unannounced inspections of sites at short notice.
A team of IAEA inspectors will arrive in Iran on Friday for one of their routine visits, state television reported.