Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iran threat on nuclear fuel talks

Jeffrey Fleishman, Cairo
October 21, 2009 - 12:00AM

IRAN has threatened to accelerate its uranium enrichment capabilities if talks with world powers in Vienna don't reach a compromise.

The talks are exploring an international plan to provide materials for Iran's nuclear program.

Negotiators from the US and Europe are seeking a deal that would allow Russia to enrich uranium as much as 20 per cent to fuel an Iranian medical research reactor to produce isotopes for treating cancer. The agreement would ease Western concern over Iran developing the ability to raise its own enrichment levels, which the US says could move Iran closer to building a nuclear weapon.

Iran has indicated it would allow another country to enrich a portion of its uranium. But officials said hours before the Vienna gathering that Iranians would step up their enrichment capacity if the talks failed.

The talks opened with acrimony as Iran threatened to ''retaliate'' against the US and Britain after Sunday's suicide bombing in the south-east that killed six commanders in the Revolutionary Guard. The Sunni Muslim militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, which also killed 36 other people.

Tehran insists the organisation has direct ties to the US, British and Pakistani intelligence services. The three countries have denied the claims.

''If the Vienna talks fail to satisfy Iran, a letter will be written to the International Atomic Energy Agency to announce that Iran will take the necessary action to supply nuclear fuel to the Tehran reactor,'' Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for Iran's nuclear agency, said. ''Iran can enrich uranium at 20 per cent, and it will do so, if needed, to provide fuel for the reactor.''

Uranium in nature has very low levels of the isotope uranium-235, which is necessary for a nuclear reaction. It can fuel nuclear power plants if the isotope is enriched to about a 3 per cent level and can be used for medical treatments at higher levels. Ideally, it must be enriched to about 90 per cent to provide weapons-grade uranium, but cruder weapons can be made at lower levels.

The plan is for Russia to import Iran's stockpile of 3.5 per cent-enriched uranium, enrich it to 20 per cent and ship it to France to be turned into fuel rods that would be sent to Iran for use in the medical reactor.

''We need between 150 and 300 kilograms of nuclear fuel, and it would not be economical to produce it in Iran,'' Mr Shirzadian said. ''Iran's offer to have its uranium enriched abroad is a test of honesty for the West.''

But even as negotiations began, Iran signalled it would probably oppose France's involvement in the enrichment process. Iran's state-owned Press TV stated: ''Sources close to the meeting (said) that Iran might remove France from the list of bidders as Paris has failed to deliver its nuclear materials in the past.''


This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/iran-threat-on-nuclear-fuel-talks-20091020-h6wh.html

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