Iran said it can produce enough 20 percent-enriched uranium to power its Tehran research reactor, which needs six times the country’s current stockpile, by September next year.
“Iran has now produced 20 kilograms of nuclear fuel with an enrichment level of 20 percent,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said in comments reported by state-run Press TV late yesterday. “In view of making fuel rods, we hope to deliver them by Shahrivar next year,” he said, referring to the Iranian calendar month, which finishes in late September 2011.
Iran said last month it would enrich its own fuel for the medical reactor after Western powers rejected a deal to swap 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for the 120 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched fuel needed for the Tehran facility. Salehi said on June 23 that Iran can produce 5 kilograms a month of 20 percent-enriched uranium.
The Persian Gulf nation has refused United Nations Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, saying the work is necessary for civilian purposes such as power generation. The UN Security Council on June 9 approved a fourth round of sanctions aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear development, which the U.S. and its allies say may be intended for a weapons program.
Under a proposed international deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in May, and rejected by the U.S. Iran had said it would swap half of its stockpile of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium for imported fuel to run the Tehran reactor, which produces medical isotopes.
The head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, said last month that Iran has enough low-enriched uranium for two atomic bombs. Iran dismissed his comments as “psychological warfare.”
France and Argentina are the only countries with the technology to make fuel for the type of reactor operating in Tehran, Paul Ingram, executive director of the London-based British American Security Information Council, said in a June 23 phone interview. Iran’s timeline for a plant to produce its own fuel is “rather optimistic,” he said.
A nuclear weapon could be made by enriching 150 to 200 kilograms of 20 percent uranium to a concentration of 80 to 90 percent, Ingram said. “Enriching to 20 percent is like going about 80 percent of the way towards having military material,” he said.
Enriching uranium to 90 percent from 20 percent accounts for about half the time needed to get the raw heavy metal into the concentrated form needed for a weapon, Federation of American Scientists physicist Ivan Oelrich said in a May 19 note. Iran is “perfectly capable” of enriching to 90 percent, he said.