TEHRAN // Iran’s nuclear chief said yesterday there are no reasons at the moment for his country to halt production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, a key demand of world powers.
The West is concerned that the 20 per cent enrichment could quickly be turned into nuclear weapons-grade material. Iran insists its nuclear development programme is for peaceful purposes.
The nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying that Iran will continue the higher enrichment level for a medical research reactor that produces isotopes for treatment of about one million cancer patients in Iran.
“There is no reason for us to back down on 20 per cent-level enrichment, because we produce only as much 20 per cent material as we need,” Mr Abbasi said. “Not more, not less.”
He also said Iran has not yet been convinced to allow the UN nuclear agency access to a military complex to probe suspicions that in 2003, Tehran secretly tested explosives needed to set off a nuclear bomb. The suspected blasts would have taken place inside a pressure chamber.
Mr Abbasi’s statement about enrichment echoed Iran’s objections last week at a meeting with world powers in Baghdad to a proposal to suspend 20 per cent enrichment in exchange for a US-supported package that would include supplying Iran with radioactive material and civilian plane spare parts.
Iran seeks to have western oil embargo and banking sanctions eased before considering suspension of 20 per cent enrichment.
The six powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – fear the higher-enriched uranium could be quickly boosted to weapons-grade material of 95 per cent.
US officials have said Washington will not ease its insistence that Iran must fully halt uranium enrichment, but speculation is increasing that the priorities have shifted to block the 20 per cent enrichment level while possibly allowing Iran to maintain lower-level nuclear fuel production, at least for now.
Mr Abbasi said a visit by IAEA to Parchin military site, south-east of Tehran, will not come any time soon.
“We haven’t been convinced yet [to allow an IAEA visit to Parchin]. No reasons and documents have been presented to enable us to arrange a visit to Parchin, which is a military site,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying.
Iran has never said whether the alleged chamber existed, describing Parchin as a conventional military site, not a nuclear facility.
Iran previously said IAEA inspectors would be allowed to visit Parchin, but first there would have to be agreement between the two sides on guidelines for the inspection.
Mr Abbasi also was quoted yesterday saying that Iran is planning to build at least two new nuclear power plants next to an existing facility that became operational with Russia’s help last year.
He said that Iran is in the very early stages of planning the new 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants and that it may begin construction within a year or two.
Iran has repeatedly said in recent years that it is planning to build more nuclear power plants but nothing has been offered to show that any work is under way.
Iran’s first power plant went into operation last May in the city of Bushehr.
Mr Abbasi said foreign contractors would be needed for construction of the new plant.
He said that designs for a 360-megawatt facility in Darkhovin, near Bushehr, “have been finished and we are reviewing it.”
The current Bushehr nuclear plant was started by German engineers in the 1970s, before Iran’s Islamic revolution, and was completed by Russia, which continues to help keeping it running and provides fuel for it.
A new Bushehr plant would boost electricity production in Iran, which has some of the world’s biggest oil reserves.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse