Iran says supply of uranium is growing
Enrichment isn’t yet weapons grade
TEHRAN — Iran says it has nearly doubled the stockpile of uranium it began enriching earlier this year in defiance of UN demands to halt the program.
Nuclear chief vice president Ali Akbar Salehi said yesterday that Iran has about 66 pounds of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
The 20 percent level is enough to produce fuel for a medical research reactor but far below the more than 90 percent-enriched uranium required to build fissile material for nuclear warheads.
US officials, however, have expressed concern that Iran may be moving closer to the ability to produce weapons-grade material.
Iran’s refusal to stop enriching uranium is at the heart of its dispute with the West. Iran insists it has the right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel and has vowed never to give up the program.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Tehran has denied the allegation, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity and producing nuclear medical radioisotopes, not bombs.
Iran started producing the 20 percent enriched material in February and in June reported having stockpiled about 37 pounds. Officials at the time said the production rate was about 6.6 pounds each month.
“So far, nearly 30 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium has been produced,’’ Salehi was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
This summer, the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran because of its refusal to halt the enrichment program.
Iran is producing the 20 percent level from its own stocks of low-enriched uranium, which has a 3.5 percent purity and is needed to fuel an electricity-generating reactor.
Iran says it needs the higher level of 20 percent enriched uranium to produce fuel rods to power a research reactor that would produce isotopes for use in cancer treatment.
Iran also claims that it has the technology — which few other countries have — needed to produce the fuel rods.
The first rod should be ready within a year, it says.