Iran on Tuesday warned it would begin manufacturing atomic fuel at a faster pace if other governments continue to reject an exchange of nuclear material the Middle Eastern nation proposed last year with Turkey and Brazil, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported (see GSN, Oct. 3).
France, Russia and the United States previously took issue with aspects of the plan, which calls for Tehran to temporarily store 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium in Turkey while other countries in exchange provide fuel for an Iranian medical isotope production reactor (see GSN, May 25, 2010).
Last year's proposal followed Iran's rejection of a 2009 U.N. plan aimed at deferring the Middle Eastern state's ability to fuel a nuclear weapon long enough to more fully address U.S. and European concerns about its potential nuclear bomb-making capability. Iran has long denied harboring any nuclear-weapon ambitions.
Iran last year began generating 20 percent-enriched uranium, enabling the nation to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon material, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent. Tehran, which has insisted the uranium is intended to fuel the medical reactor, in June announced plans to move production of the material to a new site and to boost output by threefold (see GSN, June 8).
"We will not only continue to do the enrichment by ourselves but also build a factory for manufacturing even the fuel rods by ourselves," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
Tehran could suspend production of 20 percent-enriched uranium if the exchange moves forward, the spokesman added. "As the 20-percent enrichment process is not even economical for us, we would be willing to halt this process and get the necessary fuel for the Tehran reactor from abroad," he said.
Production of the higher-enriched uranium would proceed barring such an arrangement, Mehmanparast said. "The 20-percent enrichment made in the Tehran reactor is necessary for saving lives, and anything related to this reactor should not be mixed up with political games," he said (Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Monsters and Critics, Oct. 4).
The United States has questioned Iran's stated willingness to halt production of 20 percent-enriched uranium upon receiving medical reactor fuel, but two independent expert groups -- the Federation of American Scientists and the Institute for Science and International Security -- have urged Washington to explore the option, Reuters reported.
“For once it is strategically expedient for the United States and its allies to take [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] at his word,” FAS analysts Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson wrote in a New York Times commentary published last week. Ahmadinejad floated the offer during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September; he did not specify whether Iran could send stockpiled uranium abroad as part of the plan.
Offering the medical reactor material would be a “humanitarian gesture with strategic benefits: curtailing Iran’s enrichment activities and potentially cutting the Gordian knot that has stalled the West’s nuclear negotiations with Iran,” they wrote.
The terms of a uranium exchange must be altered in accordance with the increase of Iran's low-enriched uranium stocks since 2009, said one Western envoy in Vienna, Austria. Iran last year ruled out sending a greater quantity of its stockpiled uranium to other countries under a potential revised version of the 2009 fuel exchange proposal (see GSN, Nov. 2, 2010).
The lack of French or Russian reaction to the Iranian proposal suggests neither power strongly supports the plan, according to Reuters (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters/Arab News, Oct. 3).
Elsewhere, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday suggested Washington would not support a potential independent effort by Israel to curb Iranian nuclear activities, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Washington is "very concerned and we will work together to do whatever is necessary" to stop Iran from endangering its neighbors, Panetta told reporters during an appearance with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 3).