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. Iran needs several years to produce nuclear fuel: official
TEHRAN, April 20 (AFP) Apr 20, 2007
Iran still needs several years to be in a position to manufacture enough nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment for industrial use, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency said on Friday.

"Installation of centrifuges continues and each month inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), when they come to Tehran, will see important changes" at the Natanz nuclear plant, said Gholamreza Aghazadeh.

"We have reached the industrial stage, but we need several years to create an industrial unit capable of producing fuel for our power stations," he said, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.

"We must install 50,000 centrifuges to be able to provide the fuel for two nuclear stations," said Aghazadeh.

Iran has started feeding uranium gas for enrichment at a nuclear plant where it has installed over 1,300 centrifuges, in defiance of UN resolutions, the IAEA said on Wednesday.

It said Iran has assembled eight cascades of 164 centrifuges each -- a total of 1,312 of the machines which turn uranium gas into enriched uranium for use as either nuclear reactor fuel or to be the fissile core of atom bombs -- at a heavily bunkered underground facility in Natanz.

Aghazadeh said Iran had also put into operation a plant in the central town of Isfahan for producing the zirconium tubes that will encase the fuel rods for Iran's nuclear reactors.

"The factory for producing the tubes has been brought into service in Isfahan... and next year the plant for producing the nuclear fuel pellets will begin work in Isfahan," he said.

The second facility will take the enriched uranium dioxide powder produced at Natanz and convert it into ceramic pellets for insertion into the zirconium-encased fuel rods.

Pushed by fears Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, the UN Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on the Islamic republic for failing to halt enrichment.

A close observer of the IAEA said earlier this week "enrichment has not really started. The centrifuges are running at low pressure," a first step to getting them up to speed.

Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, has reduced cooperation with the IAEA since the Security Council last month imposed the second round of sanctions on Iran.

On the diplomatic front, however, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to hold new talks on April 25 with Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

During the main weekly Muslim prayers, influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on Friday for world powers to opt for "negotiation and dialogue" to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran.

"We will not give up on our rights but we can give a guarantee that we are following the peaceful path in the nuclear sector and will not take the military path," he said in a sermon.

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