Iran Says Uranium Reserves Almost Tripled as 16 Plants Planned

Iran said recent discoveries of uranium resources have almost tripled the country’s reserves of the radioactive fuel and that it plans to build reactors at 16 new locations, Iranian news agencies reported.

Finding domestic supplies of uranium to fuel Iran’s civilian power program is the country’s top priority, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Fereidoon Abbasi told reporters yesterday at an annual industry meeting in Tehran, Fars News Agency said.

Iran now has about 4,400 tons of raw uranium, up from 1,527 tons, the Islamic Republic News Agency said, citing Abbasi. World demand for uranium used in power plants was 63,875 metric tons in 2010, according to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.

Generating nuclear energy would allow Iran to increase exports of oil and gas, IRNA said. The country has the world’s third-biggest oil reserves, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Abbasi’s announcement comes just days before multilateral talks are to resume over Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The so-called P5+1 group -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- will meet Iranian officials in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Feb. 26 to resume talks over the atomic work after an eight-month lapse.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian energy and medical research. The U.S., other UN Security Council members and the European Union suspect a covert atomic weapons program. Iran is installing more advanced centrifuges, which will multiply its enrichment capability, the IAEA reported last week, adding that it was unable to conclude that all material in Iran was intended for peaceful purposes.

‘Serious Doubts’

“On our side, we have very serious doubts about their disinterest in nuclear weapons; on their side, they have very serious doubts about our disinterest in regime change,” Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs and former U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in a Feb. 21 interview.

Sanctions by the U.S. and EU that aim to force Iran to cease activities that could have a military application are costing Iran about $98.9 million a day in lost oil sales, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The U.S. imposed new sanctions earlier this month that would keep importers from paying for oil with dollars and euros.

The penalties have yet to persuade Iran to bow to international demands to curtail its atomic program. Iran says it needs to enrich uranium to 20 percent levels -- four times more concentrated than that used in reactors -- for medical research. The U.S. and its allies worry that stockpile may be more easily converted into weapons-grade fuel.

North Korea

Iran’s public avowal of its determination to push ahead with the program follows the detonation of a military nuclear device by North Korea on Feb. 12, less than 24 hours before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Secretary of State John Kerry said the underground detonation posed a threat to the U.S. and to global peace and that the response to North Korea would have to be swift and clear, because it would also send a message to Iran.

“This is not only about the DPRK and its continued flaunting of its obligations under three separate Security Council resolutions, this is about proliferation and it’s also about Iran because they’re linked,” Kerry said Feb. 13. DPRK refers to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The blast took place weeks after UN Security Council members, including China, imposed additional sanctions after North Korea’s December launch of a long-range rocket in violation of a Security Council ban.

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