Iran began manufacturing a higher grade of enriched uranium on Tuesday in defiance of the international community, raising fears that it was heading towards nuclear breakout.
The development, which comes less than 24 hours after Iran officially notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), caused international alarm and gave impetus to Western calls for new sanctions against Tehran despite continued opposition from China.
"Today we started to make 20 per cent enriched nuclear fuel... in the presence of IAEA inspectors at Natanz," an unnamed official told Iran's Arabic-language state television station, al Alam.
Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, confirmed that "preparatory work" had started at 9.30am (0600 GMT) and that production would formally get under way at about 1pm local time.
Iran claims the upgrade of its low-enriched uranium from 3.5 per cent to 20 per cent is to supply fuel for a medical research reactor. But Western governments fear Tehran is readying for the production of weapons-grade fuel, noting that it lacks the technology required for the declared medical purposes.
Russia, traditionally resistant to tough actions against Iran, voiced some of its strongest doubts to date about the nature of the nuclear programme.
“Iran claims it is not trying to acquire nuclear weapons,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council, was quoted as saying. “But actions such as starting to enrich low-enriched uranium up to 20 per cent raise doubts in other countries and these doubts are fairly well grounded.”
Today’s development appears to mark the end of the line for the United Nations-backed uranium swap deal by which the international community had hoped to stop Iran from acquiring the fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Under the proposed deal Iran was required to ship out three quarters of its low-enriched uranium stocks in return for an equivalent amount of 20 per cent enriched uranium in the form of French-made fuel rods to be used in a research reactor to produce medical isotopes.
Iran in effect pronounced the deal dead today when it began the process of making the 20 per cent enriched uranium itself.
“This is worrying because it’s another small step up the escalation ladder,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, told the Christian Science Monitor. “What we have to keep in perspective is that Iran is still a number of years and a lot of technical expertise away from building a nuclear weapon,” he adds. “But what’s disconcerting is that they keep chipping away at those limitations.”To read full London Times story — Go Here Now.
© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.