Envoys on Tuesday said Iran has eliminated 50 percent of the uranium it could most easily convert into nuclear-bomb fuel, the Associated Press reports.
The Middle Eastern nation blended down the material from its 20 percent purity to a lower enrichment level, two envoys told the news agency for a Tuesday report. They said the International Atomic Energy Agency would publicize the finding this week in an assessment of Tehran's compliance with a temporary nuclear agreement it reached with six other governments in November.
Iran as of last year possessed almost 440 pounds of the higher-purity uranium hexafluoride, which is suited for relatively fast conversion to a 90-percent level capable of powering nuclear arms. The Persian Gulf power insists its atomic ambitions are peaceful, but it is discussing potentially adopting long-term limits on its nuclear activities in return for relief from international sanctions.
The diplomatic insiders added that Iran is acting on its separate pledge to change the remainder of its sensitive hexafluoride gas into solid oxide at its Isfahan facility. Both uranium oxide and lower-enriched uranium hexafluoride would take significantly longer to change into bomb fuel, giving other countries more time to mount a response if Tehran chose to build a nuclear weapon.
The six-month atomic agreement gives Tehran until June to finish carrying out its promises. One envoy said Tehran appears to have blended down the uranium sooner in order to access more of the petroleum income that world powers have pledged to release from international accounts under the short-term agreement.
Iran was scheduled on Tuesday to receive $450 million under the interim bargain, Reuters reported. The accord calls for Tehran to receive $4.2 billion in previously seized funds if it complies fully with the arrangement.