WORLD> Middle East
Iran issues atom fuel warning ahead of Vienna talks
Updated: 2009-10-11 16:47

TEHRAN: Iran has the technology to enrich uranium and could provide nuclear fuel for a research reactor itself if there is no deal with world powers, an official said in remarks published on Sunday.

The suggestion that the Islamic Republic may embark on further refining of uranium is likely to add to concern among Western powers, which suspect Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear bombs. Iran denies the charge.

Ali Shirzadian, a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, made the comment ahead of Oct. 19 talks in Vienna on a tentative agreement with world powers on the external supply of nuclear fuel to a reactor in Tehran.

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Western diplomats say Iran agreed in principle at Oct. 1 talks in Geneva to send about 80 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing and return to Tehran to replenish dwindling fuel stocks for a reactor in the capital that produces isotopes for cancer care.

Iranian, Russian, French, US and UN nuclear energy agency officials will meet in Vienna to flesh out conditions, such as amounts of uranium to be sent abroad, a timetable, and non-proliferation guarantees governing use of the material.

"Iran fully owns the enrichment technology and therefore it will sit at the negotiating table with power," Shirzadian said in comments carried by Iranian newspapers on Sunday.

If the talks failed, he said Iran would write a letter to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "that Iran would act on its own to supply the fuel for the Tehran reactor", the Poul newspaper quoted him as saying.

Under the proposal to be discussed in Vienna, Iran would send uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent abroad and receive 20 percent refined uranium in return as fuel for the Tehran reactor.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants and, if refined much further, to a level of around 90 percent, provide material for bombs.

For world powers, the deal's payoff would be in diminishing Iran's stash of low-enriched uranium, which has no apparent civilian use since Iran has no operating nuclear power plants - but is enough to fuel one atomic bomb should Tehran choose to enrich it further.

For Iran, which says its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation, it would preserve medical isotope production.

Iran also agreed at the Geneva meeting to give UN experts access to a newly-disclosed uranium enrichment plant under construction near the city of Qom.

The Islamic state has repeatedly rejected demands to halt its sensitive nuclear work, despite three rounds of UN sanctions since 2006.