Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) director Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday said his agency would start work on producing 20-percent enriched uranium inside the country as part of a plan to produce fuel for its nuclear research reactor.
Last week, President Ahmadinejad had announced Iran’s readiness to clinch a deal with the West by accepting to send most of the country’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile abroad in return for 20-percent fuel.
It was not clear if Iran had already made preparation work to start the reprocessing of its LEU to higher grade. If so, the process would take only months. Then there would be the additional step of processing the 20-percent material into fuel rod to be used in the reactor. Iran has not announced if they have mastered that technology yet, although their announcement that they would produce the fuel inside the country is the first indication that they can indeed convert the higher enriched uranium into fuel rod.
The next step, if Iran chooses to follow, is to produce highest-grade uranium required for nuclear weapons, a step that can be taken in few months if the country possesses the technology. Hence the insistence by the West that Iran trade its existing LEU with fuel produced abroad, the centerpiece of the proposed deal. A deal that seems all but dead with the announcement that Iran would produce its own fuel.