UN sees spike in Iran’s uranium production

By , Friday, February 24, 1:11 PM

Iran has significantly ramped up production of a purer form of enriched uranium, U.N. nuclear officials said in a new report Friday, a finding certain to exacerbate worries about the country’s march toward nuclear-weapons capability.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency showed a nearly 50 percent jump in Iran’s stockpile of what is known as “20 percent enriched” uranium, a product that is closer to weapons-grade than the type of enriched uranium normally used in nuclear power plants.

Half of the increased output came from a new facility built by Iran inside an underground bunker carved into the side of a mountain.

The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog also confirmed a breakdown in talks with Iranian officials this week over the country’s nuclear program. After inviting U.N. experts to Tehran, Iranian nuclear officials declined to grant them access to a key research facility and refused to address questions about past nuclear activities, the agency’s report said.

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Iran dismissed the IAEA’s concerns about alleged nuclear weapons research “largely on the grounds that Iran considered them to be based on unfounded allegations,” said the report, prepared in advance of a meeting next month of the Vienna agency’s 35-nation board of governors.

Since 2007, Iran has been slowly adding to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which Iranian officials say will be used to generate electricity in nuclear power plants.

But although nuclear reactor fuel requires 5 percent enriched uranium, Iran has recently begun making 20 percent enriched uranium at both its main facility in Natanz and the secretly built underground complex known as Fordow. With further refinement, the uranium stockpile can be converted to weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

Iran says it has no plans to make atomic weapons.



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