'Iran has produced enriched uranium fuel pellets for the first time'

Vice President Aghazadeh's announcement indicates they have finally completed the enrichment process and can produce their own fuel.

Iran Nuclear 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Iran Nuclear 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran has produced its own nuclear fuel pellets of enriched uranium for the first time to power its under construction heavy water research reactor, Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said Saturday according to the state news agency. Iran has long been working on its uranium enrichment capability to fuel its developing nuclear power program. The announcement indicates they have finally completed the enrichment process and can produce their own fuel. The US and its allies have called for an end to the enrichment process which it says could eventually be used to produce weapons, a charge Iran denies. "Fuel pellets to be used in the 40-megawatt Arak research reactor (in central Iraq) have been produced," IRNA quoted Aghazadeh as saying Saturday. Producing enriched uranium fuel pellets is the final stage in a long process that begins with extracting the uranium ore, converting into a concentrate called yellow cake before processing into a gas that then has to be enriched using centrifuges. Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said they are already testing the fuel pellets and the fuel rods produced at its nuclear fuel production facilities in Isfahan, central Iran. Aghazadeh also dismissed any possibilities of slowing down in Iran's uranium enrichment program, which has already prompted two rounds of sanctions from the UN. "There has been no change or reconsideration in our plans in Natanz. Work is going on as scheduled," Aghazadeh said, referring to uranium enrichment facility near Isfahan. Earlier this month, Iran said it has reached a milestone in its uranium enrichment program, saying the country now has 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges fully operating at Natanz. The number 3,000 is the commonly accepted figure for a nuclear enrichment program that is past the experimental stage and can be used as a platform for a full industrial-scale program. Iran says it plans to expand its enrichment program to up to 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz and is fully within its rights to pursue the enrichment to produce fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The UN nuclear watchdog agency confirmed last week that Iran has installed and fed uranium gas into nearly 3,000 centrifuges, saying the agency verified that Iran had finished installing eighteen 164-machine cascades at Natanz and that UF-6, or uranium gas, had been fed into all 18 cascades. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Teheran had been generally truthful about key aspects of its nuclear history, stymieing US efforts to impose new sanctions against Iran. Aghazadeh said the IAEA report was "very big victory" because it cleared up suspicions about two decades of Iran's nuclear activities and the way was now open for compromise. "Conditions are entirely ripe now for Iran and the West to reach a new compromise to close Iran's nuclear issue and save the world from being falsely inflamed," IRNA quoted Aghazadeh as saying. The United States says it will continue with its allies to press for new UN Security Council sanctions unless Iran halts uranium enrichment, a demand Iran has said will never comply.