May 19, 2006

Iran now enriching home processed uranium: source

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran initially enriched uranium from
China but is now using domestically processed uranium in its
nuclear programme, an Iranian diplomat said on Friday after
some doubts were cast on his country's recent enrichment

Iran said last month it had enriched uranium to the level
used in power stations for the first time, crediting its own
scientists for the breakthrough. The U.N. nuclear watchdog
confirmed this from samples taken in Iran.

But diplomats in Vienna, where the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) is based, said on Thursday that the
processed uranium, uranium hexafluoride (UF6), that Iran
purified was almost certainly Chinese UF6 and not Iranian.

"This is correct. Preliminary tests were made using UF6
bought from China but one week after that, we started to use
the UF6 that we have produced in Isfahan and now the UF6 that
is being used in Natanz facility for enrichment is our own
product," the Iranian diplomat, who asked not to be identified
because of the issue's sensitivity, told Reuters.

Iran's uranium conversion facility which makes UF6 is in
Isfahan, a city south of the capital, while enrichment takes
place at the nearby site of Natanz.

Iran said in April that its Isfahan plant had stockpiled
110 tonnes of feedstock UF6 gas.

Vienna diplomats have said Iran has had difficulty
producing good quality UF6. In September the material was of
such poor quality that it would have damaged the centrifuges --
machines that enrich uranium -- had it been used, they said.

The sale to Iran of Chinese processed uranium would have
come shortly before China joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty in 1992, binding Beijing to strict export controls.

A diplomat from the European Union accredited to the IAEA
said Iran had probably chosen to use the better Chinese UF6 to
hasten the process so President Mahmoud Ahmadinejdad could
announce to the world without delay Iran's enrichment success.

Enrichment is a process of purifying uranium for use in
nuclear power plants or, when very highly enriched, in bombs.

The European Union and United States believe Iran is
secretly developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian
nuclear energy programme. Iran says its programme is solely
aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity.

The IAEA has found no hard proof of any project to make
atomic bombs but says that, after more than three years of
probing, it still cannot confirm that Iran's intentions are
entirely peaceful.

IAEA inspectors routinely visit Iran to monitor nuclear
facilities but, after Iran's case was sent to the U.N. Security
Council, Tehran stopped allowing unannounced inspections of
sites at short notice.

A team of IAEA inspectors will arrive in Iran on Friday for
one of their routine visits, state television reported.