Iran Nuclear NewsIran to open uranium processing plant

Iran to open uranium processing plant

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AP: Iran will inaugurate a new uranium ore processing plant in less than a year in Ardakan, central Iran, a top nuclear official said Wednesday. The Associated Press

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will inaugurate a new uranium ore processing plant in less than a year in Ardakan, central Iran, a top nuclear official said Wednesday.

The nuclear facility will complete one of the early stages necessary for uranium enrichment — a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead. Iran is looking to dramatically expand its enrichment program despite U.N. demands that it stop.

Hossein Faghihian, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in charge of nuclear fuel, said the Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant would open before the end of the current Iranian calendar year, which is March 20, 2009.

The plant will process ore extracted from uranium mines into uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake.

In the next stage, at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, central Iran, the yellowcake is processed into uranium hexaflouride, a gas that is the feedstock for enriching uranium. The gas is taken to the Uranium Enrichment Plant in Natanz, where it is injected into centrifuges for enrichment.

Iran announced Tuesday that it had begun installing 6,000 new centrifuges for enrichment, a move that would triple its number of centrifuges.

Faghihian said the new plant at Ardakan is to have a capacity to produce 70 tons of yellowcake a year.

Iran has a smaller ore concentrate plant near the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, which opened in 2006. Authorities have not said how much ore the Bandar Abbas plant can produce, though it is believed to be less than the planned new facility.

“With the inauguration of the facility, the country’s needs for uranium ore concentrate will be met,” the state television’s Web site quoted Faghihian as saying Wednesday.

Uranium enriched to low grades is used for fuel in nuclear reactors, but further enrichment makes it suitable for atomic bombs.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran has denied the accusation. It says its nuclear program is geared solely toward generating electricity with reactors.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Faghihian said Iran has so far pumped out about 360 tons of the gas it needs for uranium enrichment and keeps the materials at the Isfahan facility.

Iran has discovered at least three other uranium reserves in central parts of the country. The largest discovered reserve is at its Saghand Uranium Mine in central Iran, not far from the Ardakan facility.

Faghihian said officials were preparing a comprehensive map of Iran’s uranium reserves to pave the way for thorough exploitation.

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