News | Iran's Nuclear Program Advances on Three Fronts
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI
16 Feb 2012 22:00
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Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30
10 p.m., 27 Bahman/February 16 On Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced what he said was Iran's latest advances in its nuclear program. In a long speech, he praised the Iranian scientists, calling them among "the best in the world," and called on the West to avoid making their record [on Iran] "darker." Referring to the Stuxnet worm, a virus allegedly developed by Israel and the United States to infect computer systems linked to Iran's nuclear program, he said, "They [the West and Israel] inserted this software into our computer system, but realized that our scientists overcame the problem. And so they committed a more heinous crime, the assassination of [our] nation's scientists."
Referring to nuclear fuel needed for the Tehran Research Reactor, which annually produces medical isotopes for 850,000 patients, Ahmadinejad said, "In a meeting on April 9, 2010, we told them that if you [the West] do not supply us with fuel for this reactor [TRR], it will stop operating, but we need to keep it going. If you do not supply the fuel, we will surely fabricate it ourselves. At that time they wrote articles saying that Iran is bluffing, and cannot produce the fuel, and said that if they deny us the fuel, there will be pressure on our health care system, and that Iran will finally surrender. But we emphasized that they were wrong and that Iranians can produce the fuel. "
Ahmadinejad said that no Iranian scientist is afraid of being assassinated, but that Iran will protect them. "Some believe that if they assassinate [you, the Iranian scientist], you will become ambivalent [about working on the nuclear program]; but no one in Iran is afraid of terrorism."
The nuclear progress is apparently on three fronts:
(1) Iran has been able to produce nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor [TRR], which is enriched uranium at 19.75 percent [commonly referred to as 20 percent enrichment];
(2) For the first time, a nuclear fuel rod with 19.75 percent enriched uranium was inserted in the core of the TRR. The fuel for the TRR was last supplied by Argentina in 1992, which was running out. According to a preliminary agreement reached in October 2009, Russia and France were to supply fuel for the TRR, but the agreement collapsed. Iran then began enriching uranium at the 19.75 percent level. But, the significance of the new development is that it is the first time that Iran has succeeded in producing fuel rods. It is not yet clear whether Iran can mass produce the rods; and
(3) Three thousands new centrifuges have been added to the Natanz enrichment facility, bringing the total number of centrifuges in Natanz to about 9,000. The overall number of centrifuges currently operating is not clear yet. In addition, a cascade [165 centrifuges] of a new generation of centrifuges has been fabricated and installed, which produce enriched uranium three times as much as the older ones, due to their very high speed. Moreover, Iran has apparently succeeded in fabricating new centrifuges with carbon composites.
The message? The West's sanctions and military threats cannot bring Iran's nuclear program to a halt. In addition, by inserting the fuel rods into the TRR that contains uranium enriched at 19.75 percent, Iran seems to be demonstrating that the higher enriched uranium is for peaceful purposes.
related | Iran's president says he's willing to resume talks over nuclear program
Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and Secretary-General of the Supreme National Security Council, has sent a letter to Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressing Iran's desire to resume negotiations with the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany). He has said that the success of the negotiations depends on a constructive approach by the 5+1 toward Iran.
Ramin Mehmanparast, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will travel to Tehran on February 20. The visit had been agreed upon at the end of the most recent visit to Tehran by the IAEA inspectors, and had given rise to hopes that progress was being made. But little progress was reportedly made during the last trip.
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