Iran has unveiled a new uranium production facility and two extraction mines, only days after talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme again ended in deadlock.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday hailed the advances and boasted of mastery over “the entire chain of nuclear energy”, while demanding that the work be accelerated.
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The announcements come after talks between sanctions-hit Iran and six world powers on Tehran’s nuclear drive failed to produce a breakthrough in the Kazakh city of Almaty on Friday and Saturday last week.
The mines in Saghand city operate 350 metres underground and are within 120km of the new yellowcake production facility at Ardakan, a city in the central province of Yazd, state television said.
The report gave few details of the Ardakan facility, but said it had an estimated 60 tonnes annual output of “yellowcake”, which is an impure state of uranium oxide, used in enrichment processes.
The announcements, on the occasion of Iran’s national Atomic Energy Technology anniversary, come after the April 5 and 6 meeting between Iran and six world powers on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions failed to achieve a breakthrough.
Iran is currently under global sanctions for its nuclear enrichment programme.
On Monday, Iran rejected a call by the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, also known as P5+1, to stop its nuclear work in exchange for a modest relaxation of sanctions.
Iran countered with a proposal that focused on “recognising Iran’s right to enrich uranium”.
The Islamic state’s enrichment activities are the focus of international concerns, with Western powers and Israel fearing Tehran is developing an atom bomb.
Currently, Iran enriches uranium to both 3.5 and 20 percent levels in its Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities. That amount could bring them closer to being able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Uranium purified at high levels can be used in a nuclear weapon. But Iran claimed its nuclear programme is only for peaceful energy purposes.
Since 2006, the UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop the process in several resolutions.
The stakes are high because Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power, has threatened to bomb Iran’s atomic sites if diplomacy fails, raising fears of an all-out war in the region.
Israel says Iran is only a few months away from the threshold of having material to turn into a bomb and has pledged to use all means to prevent it from reaching that point.
“The Iranians are using the round of talks to pave the way towards a nuclear bomb,” said Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, had said.
“Israel has already warned that the Iranians are taking advantage of the rounds of talks in order to buy time to advance in uranium enrichment, step by step, toward a nuclear weapon”.
United States President Barack Obama has warned that “all options are on the table” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But he also said he wants to resolve the issue diplomatically.