Iran takes nuclear plunge

Iran will process a new batch of uranium at its Isfahan nuclear plant beginning next week, despite pressure from the United States and European Union to halt all sensitive nuclear work, diplomats announced Wednesday.

"Beginning next week, the Iranians will start a new phase of uranium conversion at Isfahan. They will begin feeding a new batch of uranium into the plant," a European diplomat familiar with the result of inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog told on condition of anonymity.

Accused by Western nations of running a covert atomic weapons program, Iran had frozen all work at Isfahan late last year under a deal with France, Britain and Germany. But it resumed work at the plant in August, prompting the EU's three biggest powers to suspend talks with the Islamic republic.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons, insisting its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity. However, it has acknowledged concealing many nuclear activities from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 18 years.

A Western diplomat close to the IAEA said he was unable to provide details on how much uranium would be fed into the plant.

A report issued by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on September 2 said Iran had produced 6.8 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) at Isfahan by the end of August, which nuclear experts said could theoretically be processed into fuel for a single bomb.

It is unclear how much more UF6 Tehran has produced since the September 2 report.

However, diplomats close to the IAEA said the quality of the 6.8 tons of UF6 produced at Isfahan was too low to be useable in centrifuges, casting doubts on Tehran's ability to make good on threats to begin work on the most sensitive part of the nuclear fuel cycle - uranium enrichment.

However, the Iranians are eager to keep running the Isfahan plant so they can improve their ability to convert raw uranium into UF6 gas, the form of uranium that is fed into centrifuges for enrichment, Reuters reports.


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