Sanctions clamour grows as Iran declares it will enrich nuclear fuel stockpile

Catherine Philip
The Times [UK]
9 February 2010

Iran moved a step closer to nuclear weapons capability yesterday after notifying the UN that it would begin enriching its existing nuclear fuel stockpile towards weapons grade.

The move caused international alarm and renewed Western calls for new sanctions on Tehran despite opposition from China, which insists that negotiations could still succeed.

Iran’s announcement is the latest twist of the UN-backed uranium swap deal. Iran was required to ship out three quarters of its low-enriched uranium stocks — at a purity of 3.5 per cent — in return for an equivalent amount of 20 per cent enriched uranium in the form of French-made fuel rods to be used in a research reactor to produce medical isotopes.

Iran in effect pronounced the deal dead yesterday, telling the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would begin the high-enrichment itself, taking it closer to the 90 per cent weapons-grade uranium required for a nuclear bomb.

Because it lacks the technology to make the fuel rods Iran could not use the enriched material for medical purposes, raising suspicions that it is seeking to produce weapons-grade fuel.

France and Argentina are the only countries capable of making the rods and Argentina has refused to help.

Although weapons-grade uranium is 90 per cent enriched, the first stages of the process are by far the hardest. The leap from 20 to 90 per cent is bridged easily.

The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, denounced Iran’s move as blackmail to force a deal on Tehran’s terms. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office called the Iranian decision worrying.

The article continues at The Times.

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