AFP: Iran is producing the uranium feedstuff that could be used to make nuclear weapons, only days before it is due to introduce a promised ban on all such enrichment activities, diplomats told AFP Friday. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September that Iran was planning to convert 37 tonnes of uranium yellowcake created an international outcry that led Britain, France and Germany to negotiate a full enrichment suspension with Tehran. AFP
by Michael Adler
VIENNA – Iran is producing the uranium feedstuff that could be used to make nuclear weapons, only days before it is due to introduce a promised ban on all such enrichment activities, diplomats told AFP Friday.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September that Iran was planning to convert 37 tonnes of uranium yellowcake created an international outcry that led Britain, France and Germany to negotiate a full enrichment suspension with Tehran.
A total of “37 tonnes of uranium yellowcake ore have been introduced into Iran’s uranium conversion facility in Isfahan and an unknown amount of UF6 (the uranium hexafluoride gas used as the feed to make enriched uranium) has been produced,” a Western diplomat said.
The comments were confirmed by other diplomats close to the IAEA, which has inspectors in Iran ready to verify the suspension of uranium enrichment which Tehran has said will begin Monday.
Iran had agreed last Sunday to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, in an accord worked out with EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany in order to defuse US charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
A US official said Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian had told the European trio that Iran would not convert uranium into UF6 gas in the interval between reaching the agreement and its actually taking effect “but that verbal assurance meant nothing and this is clearly more bad faith by Iran.”
They’ve put it all in (the yellowcake) and they think they have until November 22 to push it all through,” said the Western diplomat.
The IAEA reported this month that Iran had said on October 14 that it had introduced 22.5 tonnes of yellowcake into the Isfahan facility but had not produced any UF6, news which reassured the agency.
UF6 is spun in cascades of what can be thousands of centrifuges into highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be the explosive core for atomic bombs.
The total of 37 tonnes now in the conversion machines could produce a quantity of UF6 which would make about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of HEU, enough for from four to six nuclear weapons.
The United States wants the IAEA, whose 35-nation board of governors is meeting about Iran on Thursday in Vienna, to report the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council, which could impose punishing sanctions.
But Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly a strictly peaceful effort to produce electricity and agreed to a full enrichment suspension as a confidence-building measure.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei “will be reporting next Thursday on developments with regard to the suspension which have occurred since” a report he filed on Iran on November 15, agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.
Henry Sokolski, head of the Washington think tank the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said the Iranians were technically within their rights to make the uranium gas since the suspension starts Monday.
“This is humiliating to the Europeans but it’s legal. What it shows is that the Iranians can run circles around the European negotiators,” Sokolski said.
Under IAEA investigation since February 2003 for nuclear activities it had hidden for almost two decades, Iran agreed in October 2003 to suspend the actual enrichment of uranium.
Under international pressure for continuing to make centrifuges, Iran agreed in February 2003 to suspend such support activities but it said this did not include converting yellowcake into UF6, which is the first step in enrichment.
But even in agreeing to a full suspension, the Iranians stressed that this was a voluntary move.
The agreement with the European trio reaffirmed Iran’s legal right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
The United States has been trying for almost two years to get the IAEA to send the Iranian dossier to the Security Council but does not have support for a consensus on the agency’s 35-nation board of governors.
Washington faces stiff opposition from non-aligned countries, which say Iran’s rights to peaceful nuclear technology should not be violated, but also the European trio who have been stressing constructive engagement with Iran in order to get it to come clean on its atomic ambitions.
It was not clear if the latest development would change the atmosphere on the board.