Teheran denies running out of uranium

Official dismisses report that Islamic republic seeking to buy uranium concentrate from abroad.

Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran said Wednesday that it was not running out of raw uranium or seeking to buy uranium concentrate from abroad to sustain its ambitious nuclear program. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said reports that Iran's raw uranium stockpile was running out was only "media speculation without any scientific basis." An Atomic Energy Organization of Iran official also said Iran has its own uranium mines to extract ore, which are sufficient and there is no shortage. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. The Times of London has reported that Western powers believe Iran is running short of raw uranium and its stockpile could be exhausted within months. The paper reported last month that Western countries were trying to dissuade major uranium producers from selling the ore to Iran. Iran's own principal source of uranium is the Saghand mine in the center of the country, which has the capacity to produce 132,000 tons of ore per year. Located about 300 miles south of Teheran, the mine consists of an open pit with minimal reserves and a deep mine. It has a a total estimated uranium ore reserve of 1.73 million tons. Iran also has had a considerable stock of yellow cake, acquired from South Africa in the 1970s under the former US-backed shah's original civil nuclear power program. Uranium ore extracted from a mine such as Saghand is first reprocessed into uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake. In the next stage, yellowcake is turned into UF-4, a preliminary stage before being reprocessed into uranium hexafluoride gas, known as UF-6. Iran does this reprocessing at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan. In the next stage, the gas is injected into centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speeds to purify uranium. Iran says it has 5,000 centrifuges operating in its Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran. Uranium enriched to a low degree is used to make fuel for a nuclear power reactor - but highly enriched uranium can be used to make bombs. The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons, but Teheran denies the charges saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity - not weapons. The UN Security Council has slapped three rounds of economic sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Meanwhile, Qashqavi also said Wednesday that the US needs to stop making "baseless" accusations against Iran in order to pave the way for talks between the two adversaries. He said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments Tuesday that Iran would welcome talks with the United States based on mutual respect meant the US must stop leveling accusations against Iran. But Qashqavi said that US President Barack Obama should be given some time to take steps toward better relations.