Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ahmadinejad Opens Iran’s First Nuclear Fuel Plant

By Ladane Nasseri and Jonathan Tirone

April 9 (Bloomberg) -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated Iran's first nuclear fuel plant a day after he insisted that the Persian Gulf country doesn't aim to develop atomic weapons.

Ahmadinejad cut the ribbon at the facility in the central province of Isfahan during a ceremony marking National Nuclear Technology Day, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said.

The formal opening of the Isfahan plant indicates that the country is pushing ahead with its nuclear research reactor in Arak, which the United Nations Security Council has demanded stopped. Uranium pellets like the ones produced in Isfahan will feed the Arak reactor after its completion, producing plutonium as a by-product. Plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs.

The Obama administration said yesterday it plans to join China, Russia and European allies in talks with Iran on the country's nuclear program, marking a shift in U.S. policy. Former President George W. Bush made U.S. participation in such talks conditional on Iran suspending its nuclear work. The U.S. and several major allies have said the Iranian program is cover for weapons development.

Ahmadinejad said yesterday he would welcome a genuine overture from President Barack Obama, while underlining Iran's stance that its nuclear work is peaceful and intended to generate electricity. "Our stance is clear: Iran is a proponent of talks if based on justice, respect and rules," Ahmadinejad said today in a speech today to mark the fuel plant's inauguration.

World Powers' Offer

Earlier today, the president's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, said the offer by world powers to hold talks with Iran on its nuclear drive is "constructive," Agence France- Presse reported.

"We hope that this proposal means a change of approach to a more realistic attitude," he said, adding that Iran will "examine" the offer and give a response.

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said Feb. 19 that Iran had already begun producing uranium pellets and fuel rods. IAEA inspectors haven't had access to the Arak facility, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, since August, after Iran denied investigators access to plant.

Iran has 7,000 centrifuges operating at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz in central Iran, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, said today on state television. Centrifuges are fast-spinning machines that enrich nuclear fuel by separating uranium isotopes. Iran aims to have 50,000 centrifuges in the next five years.

New Centrifuge Types

Iran has tested two new types of centrifuges with "capacity several times higher" than that of previous models, Ahmadinejad said today.

The IAEA said Feb. 19 that Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium increased by about 60 percent since the IAEA's last report, in November, giving the country around 1,010 kilograms (2,227 pounds) of the material.

London's Verification Research Training and Information Center estimates that 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium could yield 15 to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for the production of a device under the supervision of an expert bomb-maker.

Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, the government in Tehran has consistently rejected United Nations Security Council demands to halt its enrichment activities, with international sanctions imposed as a result.

Ahmadinejad has portrayed developments in Iran's nuclear program as a matter of pride and a symbol of its autonomy from Western countries. He routinely accuses the west of pressuring it to cut short the country's technological advancement and force it into submission and dependence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ladane Nasseri in Tehran at; Jonathan Tirone at

Last Updated: April 9, 2009 12:14 EDT

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