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UN calls Iran's uranium conversion a confidence building move


Source: Mehr News Agency, Tehran

To prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, Iran has converted more than a third of its 20 percent enriched uranium into a powder for a medical research reactor that is difficult to reprocess for weapons production, experts and UN monitors say.

Workers at a uclear plant in Isfahan, Iran
(file photo)

The conversion was mentioned in a technical report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late August.

Iranian MP Hossein Naqavi-Hosseini said Tehran was taking a "serious and concrete confidence-building measure" by converting some of the 20 percent enriched stockpile into U3O8, or uranium oxide, in the form of powder.

Iran's 20 percent enrichment program is among the core disputes between Iran and the West.

Iran says it needs this degree of enrichment for its medical research reactor, which can produce isotopes for cancer treatment. It also has announced plans to build more such reactors.

The IAEA confirmed in its August 30 report that Iran had made U308 -- uranium oxide -- from 71.25 kilograms of its total of 190 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium produced until mid-August.

U308 is effectively off the table as a material for possible weapons production, experts say.

The powder is turned into fuel plates for the reactor, but it is complicated and dangerous to try to change the radioactive powder back into a gas state needed for the enrichment centrifuges, said an Iranian nuclear scientist, Rasoul Sediqi Bonabi, a professor at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.

"Once converted into U3O8, it's not usable for producing bomb grade uranium and of little proliferation concern," Bonabi told The Associated Press.

Naqavi, spokesman of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the move is expected to facilitate talks between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) and pave the way for a diplomatic solution over Tehran's nuclear activities.

"Iran has demonstrated" its rejection of nuclear arms, Naqavi stated.

Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Iran's decision to produce U308 is "slightly reassuring."

"It tends to confirm that there is a civilian purpose in enriching to this level," he said in an emailed statement.

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