Iran starts 20-percent uranium enrichment process


Tehran/Vienna : Iran Tuesday started the 20-percent uranium enrichment process, the head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization said.

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“The process started in the research hall in the Natanz plant and a cascade of 164 centrifuges have been prepared for the 20-percent enrichment process,” Ali-Akbar Salehi said.

“This cascade can produce 3 to 5 kilogrammes of 20-percent uranium per month for the Tehran medical reactor,” he added.

He said the process would be supervised by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based in the capital Tehran.

A spokesman at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna confirmed that inspectors of his agency were present in Natanz, explaining they had already been there for a routine visit.

However, he said the IAEA would not comment on the activities in Natanz.

A Vienna-based diplomat said that while there was a possibility that Iran had already started the actual enrichment, the preparation stage of the process usually takes some time.

Salehi further said that the new process line was separate from the routine enrichment line of 3.5 percent.

He added that the monthly production of 3 to 5 kilogrammes of the 20-percent-enriched uranium would be twice the quantity the Tehran reactor would need per month.

The atomic chief reiterated that Tehran was still prepared to hold negotiations for nuclear cooperation “if the world powers stopped wasting time and acting more rationally.”

Unlike similar occasions in previous years, Iran kept the ceremony comparatively low profile. Apparently only state-run television was present at the site but has not yet sent any footage.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the new enrichment process had nothing to do with the IAEA-brokered plan to ship low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing later into fuel for the Tehran medical reactor.