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IAEA tight-lipped on Iran's nuclear fuel claims

by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Nov 26, 2007
The UN atomic watchdog declined to comment Monday on claims by Iran that it was now in a position to make its own fuel for a 40-megawatt heavy water research reactor under construction in the centre of the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was similarly tight-lipped on a statement from Tehran, which said that the IAEA had formally closed two key dossiers in its long-running investigation into Iran's disputed nuclear programme and was now ready to move on to the next unresolved issue.

An IAEA spokesman said the agency had no official comment to make on remarks by the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, on Saturday.

According to the official IRNA news agency, AEOI chief Aghazadeh told reporters in Tehran that Iran had produced its own nuclear fuel pellets of uranium oxide for the first time to power the heavy water research reactor currently under construction in Arak.

The move would mark a major technological advancement in Iran's controversial atomic drive.

"Based on the existing standards, the pellets useable in the 40-megawatt Arak research reactor have been produced," Aghazadeh said.

"By the first half of the next Iranian year (September 2008), the fuel manufacturing plant will be able to provide fuel for the 40-megawatt Arak research reactor," he said.

The Arak reactor, due to be completed in 2009, is to replace a research reactor in Tehran that was supplied by the Americans before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Aghazadeh also said that zirconium tubes that will encase the fuel rods for the Arak reactor would be produced at a zirconium production plant in the central city of Isfahan.

Iran aims to master the complete fuel cycle. It has its own uranium mines and is processing the uranium for its nuclear facilities as fuel.

Any new developments, such as the ability to make nuclear fuel pellets, will definitely be closely watched by the IAEA, which has been investigating Iran's nuclear programme for the past four years.

Earlier this month, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei had said that even after four years of investigations, his agency could still not say once and for all that Iran's nuclear drive is entirely peaceful.

Western countries such as the United States accuse Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is merely seeking technology to generate electricity for a growing population.

At a board meeting last week, the IAEA found that Iran had made some progress in clearing up some of the outstanding issues related to its nuclear activities in the past.

Nevertheless, the watchdog complained that its knowledge of Iran's current nuclear activities was "diminishing" and therefore urged Tehran to help build confidence in the peaceful nature of its atomic drive by suspending uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, and opening up its nuclear programme to UN inspections.

In Tehran on Saturday, AEOI chief Aghazadeh said that the IAEA had formally closed the file on two key past issues: the P1 and P2 centrifuges used to enrich uranium; and the so-called uranium metal document, a black-market paper containing information about the machining and casting of uranium metal into spheres for nuclear warheads.

But an IAEA spokesman had no comment to make on such remarks on Monday.

Iran's UN envoy, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, had similarly claimed last week that the P1/P2 and uranium metal issues were "closed", leaving the IAEA and Tehran free to move on to the next unresolved issue, the matter of traces of highly-enriched uranium found by inspectors at research sites.

However, diplomatic sources in Vienna insisted that, even if the IAEA had found that Iran had provided "consistent" answers with regard to the P1/P2 centrifuges, such matters were never officially "closed".

"That's not the way the safeguards system works," one diplomat said.

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Bush plays down WWIII warning
Washington (AFP) Nov 20, 2007
US President George W. Bush on Tuesday played down his warning of "World War III" if Iran gets nuclear arms but refused to rule out using force to keep Tehran from getting an atomic weapons.

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