15 February 2012
Iran has started loading domestically made nuclear fuel at a major research reactor for the first time, despite Western sanctions. The loading ceremony at the plant in Tehran was announced as a major breakthrough and attended by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was broadcast live on state television. Ahmadinejad had announced in a speech last week that Iran would be unveiling something big. The nuclear fuel rods are the first to be produced domestically.
Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Baqeri said the country had developed its own nuclear fuel because the West had refused to provide it to them. Iran created its own 20-percent fuel plates for a research reactor in Tehran whose stock of fuel sourced from Argentina in the 1990s was running low. TV reports also said that Iran had made progress in 20 per cent uranium enrichment at its Natanz facility, beyond enrichment activities already under way there.
Last month, the Iranians said they had succeeded in building and testing a nuclear fuel rod - a stack of low-enriched uranium pellets bundled together at the core of a nuclear reactor. That announcement appeared aimed at demonstrating Iran's growing sophistication in developing a home-grown nuclear program, amid growing Western fears that the Islamic republic will use its knowledge to build nuclear weapons.
In January, the Governing Council of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed "deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program." Iran responded to the IAEA report by calling it a fabrication aimed at bolstering US accusations that Iran was working toward a bomb.
In recent weeks, Western nations adopted tight sanctions against Iran targeting the financial and energy sectors. The European Union imposed a ban of new oil contracts with Iran. On Wednesday, media reported that Tehran would cut oil exports to six EU countries - Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain - in response to the sanctions. However, the Oil Ministry denied the reports. Iran claims the EU oil embargo will not cripple its economy as the country had already identified new customers. European sales have so far accounted for about 18 percent of Iran's total crude oil exports.
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