Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Thursday that the Islamic republic has produced its first package of highly enriched uranium just two days after beginning the process.
Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday told hundreds of thousands of cheering Iranians on the anniversary of the 1979 foundation of the Islamic republic that the country was now a “nuclear state.” However, he insisted that Iran had no intention to build nuclear weapons.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Tehran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to build nuclear weapons but Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is just geared towards generating electricity.
“I want to announce with a loud voice here that the first package of 20 percent fuel was produced and provided to the scientists,” he said, referring to the recently begun process of enriching Iran’s uranium stockpile to higher levels.
Enriching uranium produces fuel for a nuclear power plants but can also be used to create material for atomic weapons if enriched further to 90 percent or more.
“We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent but we don’t enrich (to this level) because we don’t need it,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Iran announced on Tuesday it was beginning the process of enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. The international community reacted by starting the process to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has said it wants to further enrich the uranium - which is still substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads - as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.
But the West says Tehran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears that Iran wants to enrich the uranium to make nuclear weapons.
Mr. Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran’s position that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons.
“When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb,” he told the crowd. “If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it ... our nation has the courage to explicitly say it and build it and not fear you.”
Western powers blame Iran for rejecting an internationally endorsed plan to export its enriched uranium and have it enriched further and returned to the country in the form of fuel rods for the Tehran reactor - and in broader terms for turning down other overtures meant to diminish concerns about its nuclear agenda.
Iran, in turn, asserts it had no choice but to start enriching to higher levels because its suggested changes to the international plan were rejected.
Mr. Ahmadinejad did not say what amount of the 20 percent enriched uranium the country has so far produced.
However, a confidential document from the U.N. nuclear agency shared Wednesday with The Associated Press said Iran’s initial effort is modest, using only a small amount of feedstock and a fraction of its capacities.
The document, relying on onsite reports from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, also cited Iranian experts at the country’s enrichment plant at Natanz as saying that only about 10 kilograms - 22 pounds - of low enriched uranium had been fed into the cascade for further enrichment.