Iran announces it has enriched uranium for the first time |

Iran announces it has enriched uranium for the first time

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran has successfully enriched uranium for the first time, a landmark in its quest to develop nuclear fuel, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday, although he insisted his country does not aim to develop atomic weapons.In a nationally televised speech, Ahmadinejad called on the West “not to cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians” by trying to force Iran to abandon uranium enrichment.The announcement came ahead of a visit to Tehran this week by Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, who is trying to resolve the West’s standoff with Iran. The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran stop all enrichment activity by April 28. Iran has rejected this, saying it has a right to the process.”At this historic moment, with the blessings of God almighty and the efforts made by our scientists, I declare here that the laboratory-scale nuclear fuel cycle has been completed and young scientists produced enriched uranium needed to the degree for nuclear power plants Sunday,” Ahmadinejad said.”I formally declare that Iran has joined the club of nuclear countries,” he told an audience that included top military commanders and clerics in the northwestern holy city of Mashhad. The crowd broke into cheers of “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!” Some stood and thrust their fists in the air.The White House denounced the latest comments by Iranian officials, with spokesman Scott McClellan saying they “continue to show that Iran is moving in the wrong direction.”Ahmadinejad said Iran “relies on the sublime beliefs that lie within the Iranian and Islamic culture. Our nation does not get its strength from nuclear arsenals.”He said Iran wanted to operate its nuclear program under supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency and within its rights and regulations under the regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.The announcement does not mean Iran is immediately capable of producing enough fuel to run or a reactor or develop the material needed for a nuclear warhead. Uranium enrichment can produce either, but it must be carried out on a much larger scale, using thousands of centrifuges.Iran succeeded in enriching uranium to a level needed for fuel on a research scale – using 164 centrifuges, officials said.But the breakthrough underlined how difficult it will be for the West to convince Iran to give up enrichment.Ahmadinejad made the announcement in a richly appointed hall of one of Iran’s holiest cities in a ceremony clearly aimed at proclaiming the country’s nuclear success.Speaking before Ahmadinejad, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh – the nuclear chief – said Iran has produced 110 tons of uranium gas, the feedstock that is pumped into centrifuges for enrichment. The amount is nearly twice the 60 tons of uranium hexaflouride, or UF-6, gas that Iran said last year that it had produced.Aghazadeh said Iran plans to expand its enrichment program to be able to use 3,000 centrifuges by the end of the year.The United States and some European countries accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, an accusation Tehran denies, saying it intends only to generate electricity.The IAEA is due to report to the U.N. Security Council on April 28 whether Iran has met its demand for a full halt to uranium enrichment. If Tehran has not complied, the council will consider the next step. The U.S. and Europe are pressing for sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China have so far opposed.McClellan told reporters traveling on Air Force One with President Bush that Iran’s enrichment claims “only further isolate” Tehran and underscore why the international community must continue to raise concerns about its suspected ambition to develop nuclear weapons.McClellan noted the Security Council clock now running on Iran.”This is a regime that needs to be building confidence with the international community,” McClellan said. “Instead, they’re moving in the wrong direction.”U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the Iranians’ announcement “shows that they’re not paying any attention to what the Security Council has said.””And it shows why we feel a sense of urgency here that we have to have Iran realize the mistaken course it’s pursuing,” he told The Associated Press.In Vienna, officials of the IAEA, whose inspectors are now in Iran, declined to comment.A diplomat familiar with Tehran’s enrichment program said the announcement appeared to be accurate. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss information restricted to the agency.The reported breakthrough came only two months after Iran resumed research on enrichment at its facility in the central town of Natanz in February. The resumption of work there prompted the IAEA to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council – escalating the standoff.The enrichment process is one of the most difficult steps in developing a nuclear program. It requires a complicated plumbing network of pipes connecting centrifuges that can operate flawless for months or years.The process aims to produce a gas high with an increased percentage of uranium-235, the isotope needed for nuclear fission, which is much rarer than the more prevalent isotope uranium 238.A gas made from raw uranium is pumped into a centrifuge, which spins, causing a small portion of the heavier uranium-238 to drop away. The gas then proceeds to other centrifuges – perhaps thousands of them – where the process is repeated, increasing the proportion of uranium-235.The enrichment process can take years to produce a gas rich enough in uranium-235 that it can be used to power a nuclear reactor or produce a bomb.Vail, Colorado

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