August 30, 2005

Iran Says Has Made New Atomic Breakthrough

TEHRAN -- Iran has made a new breakthrough in its controversial nuclear program, successfully using biotechnology to extract larger and cheaper quantities of uranium concentrate from its mines, state television reported.

Quoting the unnamed manager of the project, state television said on Monday night that "the new technique used for the production of yellowcake will reduce costs, and efficiency will increase one hundred-fold as well."

Yellowcake, or concentrated uranium oxide, is an early stage of the nuclear fuel cycle which Iran says it needs to master to feed atomic reactors which will generate electricity.

But Washington and the European Union fear Iran could use the same techniques to produce bomb-grade fuel and want Tehran to scrap nuclear fuel work for good.

Iran has refused and earlier this month resumed work at a facility which converts yellowcake into a gas which can then be enriched to produce reactor fuel or warhead material.

Uranium enrichment itself, however, remains suspended as a confidence building measure aimed at reassuring the world that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

Iran hitherto used acid to turn uranium ore mined in its central desert region into yellowcake. Using biotechnology, the television report said, would be better for the environment.

Iranian officials have recently boasted that while some sensitive parts of the atomic program were frozen during the last two years while negotiations were held with the West, Iran's atomic scientists have been busy perfecting other, less sensitive, parts of the nuclear fuel cycle.