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Iran Prepares to Make Uranium Less Useful for Bombs

Personnel work at Iran's Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2009. Tehran appears to be completing a system at the plant for converting low-enriched uranium gas into solid oxide, the U.N. nuclear watchdog indicated last week. Personnel work at Iran's Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2009. Tehran appears to be completing a system at the plant for converting low-enriched uranium gas into solid oxide, the U.N. nuclear watchdog indicated last week. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran is apparently wrapping up work on a system for making its low-enriched uranium harder convert into nuclear-bomb fuel, Reuters reports.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Iran has transferred 4.3 metric tons of stockpiled gaseous uranium to its Isfahan facility, where equipment now in its last stages of preparation would change such material into solid oxide, the news agency reported on Tuesday.

Tehran is already converting its most weapon-usable material into oxide powder -- a form more difficult to refine into bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium -- in compliance with a short-term accord reached with six other governments last November, the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated in a report last week.

The still-unfinished Enriched UO2 Powder Plant, by contrast, would focus only on uranium with a purity of up to 5 percent. Washington says Iran pledged to possess no more of the lower-enriched uranium gas at the end of the atomic pact's six-month duration than the nation held in January, when the agreement took effect.

The conversion system has faced months of delays, and the U.N. atomic agency said Iran has stockpiled almost one metric ton of additional gaseous uranium since February. The half-year accord extends through July 20, and it is intended to help diplomats hammer out long-term limits on Iran's bomb-usable nuclear work. Tehran insists its atomic activities have always been peaceful.

IAEA inspectors this month "confirmed that commissioning of the facility using natural uranium had begun," the U.N. agency said in its report.

One Western envoy suggested "we will hear anytime soon that it has started [converting] the actual material."

If the plant launches in the near future, "no one believes they are going to have any problem" changing the extra uranium into oxide powder on time, according to the insider.

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Iran

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