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. Iran may be running out of yellowcake: study
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (AFP) Feb 12, 2009
Iran may be close to exhausting its supply of uranium oxide, or yellowcake, raising questions about the commercial viability of its nuclear program, a new study said Wednesday.

The study by the Institute for Science and International Security said there was scant evidence that Iran had supplemented its dwindling supply of yellowcake with domestic uranium mining.

"The current uranium ore shortfall illustrates a fundamental inconsistency between Iran's stated intentions -- a commercially viable, indigenously fueled, civil nuclear power industry and its capabilities," the report said.

"If Iran's objective is a latent nuclear weapons capability, it need not invest resources in the further development of its mining industry," it said.

"But if it wants to meet the requirements of even a single Bushehr-type reactor, it will need to do much more to develop its own indigenous mining capabilities, or settle its differences with the international community so that it can import sufficient quantities of yellowcake," it said.

The study was authored by David Albright, Jacqueline Shire and Paul Brannan for the institute, a non-profit founded in 1993 that focuses on nuclear weapons policy.

Based on a November 2008 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the analysts estimate that Iran has consumed nearly three quarters of the 600 tons of yellowcake it acquired from South Africa in the 1970s during the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Neither of Iran's two uranium mines -- one near the Gulf at Gchine and the other in central Iran at Saghand -- appear to have the capacity to support the fuel needs of even a single reactor, according to the study.

The IAEA reported in 2002 that the infrastructure Saghand -- which contains low grade ore -- was essentially complete and would begin production in 2006 with a goal of producing 50 tons a year.

But no evidence of mining activity appears in satellite images taken in August 2004 and again in October 2008, the report said.

Satellite images of a facility built to process ore from the mine "shows further construction of buildings on site but no evidence or ore processing activity," the report said.

The Gchine mine was reported to have begun production in 2004, and the IAEA said it would eventually produce 21 tons of "low but variable grade ore" a year.

But the ISIS report said "the output of the Gchine mine is inadequate to meet the refueling requirements of a single 1000 MW electric power reactor."

It is thought that Gchine produces only a fraction of the uranium needed to keep Iran's uranium conversion facility at Esfahan operating at both current and projected levels.

If Iran manages to maintain operations at Esfahan well into 2010, it could mean that it has succeeded in acquire ore from other sources despite UN Security Council sanctions, the report said.

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