VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran will continue preparing raw “yellowcake” uranium for enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons, until the end of February, despite a recent pledge to freeze all such activity, diplomats said.
“The Iranians have decided to continue UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) production until the end of February,” a diplomat told Reuters. Two other diplomats in Vienna, where the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is based, confirmed the report.
UF4 is the precursor to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gas that is fed into centrifuges which spin at supersonic speeds to purify it for use as fuel in civilian nuclear power plants or in atomic weapons. Iran recently pledged to freeze all activities linked to uranium enrichment as a confidence-building gesture.
The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program, a charge Iran denies. Washington has also told the European Union (news – web sites)’s “big three” — France, Britain and Germany — that Tehran has no intention of honoring its pledge to freeze enrichment work.
In September, Iran announced it would process 37 tonnes of yellowcake for enrichment, an amount that nuclear experts said could yield enough material for up to five weapons if it was later enriched to weapons-grade purity.
When Iran made the suspension pledge to the EU big three last month, it agreed not to convert any uranium that was not already inside the conversion facility. However, Tehran changed its plan and decided that none of the 37 tonnes of uranium would be left in raw yellowcake form, the diplomats said.
“This goes beyond the agreement to only convert what was absolutely necessary,” one diplomat said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, told the official IRNA news agency that it was natural for Iran to continue with its nuclear program.
“It is natural that the Islamic Republic continues all its nuclear activities. Iran has only suspended the fuel cycle voluntarily in the framework of its policy to build trust without any legal obligations,” he said.