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  Plutonium found in Iran waste facility

Associated Press | November 14, 2006

International Atomic Energy experts have found unexplained plutonium and highly enriched uranium traces in a nuclear waste facility in Iran and have asked Tehran for an explanation, an IAEA report said Tuesday.

The report, prepared for next week's meeting of the 35-nation IAEA, also faulted Tehran for not cooperating with the agency's attempts to investigate suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear program that have lead to fears it might be interested in developing nuclear arms.

And it said it could not confirm Iranian claims that its nuclear activities were exclusively nonmilitary unless Tehran increased its openness.

"The agency will remain unable to make further progress in its efforts to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," without additional cooperation by Tehran, said the report, by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Such cooperation is a "prerequisite for the agency to be able to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," it added.

As expected, the four-page report made available to The Associated Press confirmed that Iran continues uranium enrichment experiments in defiance of the U.N. Security Council.

Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads, and Iran is under intense international pressure to freeze activities that can produce such substances.

But Tehran has shrugged off both Security Council demands that it stop developing its enrichment programs and urgings that it cease construction of a heavy water research reactor that produces plutonium waste. It insists it wants enrichment only to generate nuclear power and says it needs the Arak research reactor to produce isotopes for medical research and cancer treatment.

Earlier Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran would soon celebrate completion of its nuclear fuel program and claimed the international community was ready to accept it as a nuclear state.

Iran has been locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. The United States and its European allies have been seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

"Initially, they (the U.S. and its allies) were very angry. The reason was clear: They basically wanted to monopolize nuclear power in order to rule the world and impose their will on nations," Ahmadinejad told a news conference.

"Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing the whole nuclear fuel cycle," he said. He did not elaborate.

President Bush said Monday there was no change in his position that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment before there can be any dialogue with Tehran.

"Our focus of this administration is to convince the Iranians to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. That focus is based on our strong desire for there to be peace in the Middle East. And an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a destabilizing influence," Bush said Monday.

The Iranian leader said he hoped "to hold the big celebration of Iran's full nuclearization in the current year." Iran's current calendar year ends on March 20.

Though Ahmadinejad did not specify, he appeared to indicate that Iran was on the verge of proficiency in the whole cycle of nuclear fuel from extracting uranium ore to enriching it and producing nuclear fuel.

Russia, which is backed by China, opposes tough action advocated by the U.S., Britain and France, and its amendments to a Western draft resolution would reduce sanctions and delete language that would cut off Iran's access to foreign missile technology.

The U.S. and some of its allies allege that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and are suspicious of its intentions after Tehran concealed parts of its nuclear development from U.N. inspectors for many years.

Iran claims its program is peaceful and for generating electricity.

Uranium enrichment at low levels can be used to produce fuel to generate electricity but at higher levels can be use to make atomic bombs.

Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. Officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decades.

Since revelations more than three years ago of a covert uranium enrichment program, Iran has moved to develop its capabilities, activating two small experimental enrichment plants and enriching small amounts of uranium to nuclear fuel level. Although that is far short of the weapons grade uranium that could be used for nuclear warheads, international concerns about Tehran's ultimate intentions led the Security Council to set an Aug. 31 deadline for an enrichment moratorium which Tehran has ignored. Officials have said they plan to have 3,000 centrifuges operating by next year enough to make enough material for several nuclear weapons a year.

Suspicions also are focused on Tehran's construction of a heavy water reactor that when completed in the next decade will produce plutonium waste, another pathway to nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency declined comment on the Iranian president's remarks.

The Bush administration, frustrated by U.N. Security Council inaction on sanctions against Iran, is pressing a new agenda trying to deny Tehran U.N. aid for a plutonium-producing reactor that could be used to make nuclear warheads.

Diplomats from nations on the IAEA board say the U.S. is lobbying for denial of Iran's request for help on its Arak research reactor, where Iran says it wants to produce radio isotopes for diagnosing and treating cancer.

Seven diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information, told The Associated Press separately Tuesday that they believed that the 35 member nations of the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog would deny Iran's request when the IAEA meets next week.

But even a total denial of technical aid for Arak, while symbolically important, is expected to do little to slow the eventual completion of the reactor, let alone Iran's nuclear program. When finished probably early in the next decade Arak could produce enough plutonium for about two bombs a year.

 

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