Iran is to insert its first domestically produced uranium fuel into its Tehran reactor by mid-February, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in comments published by the IRNA state news agency on Thursday.
“Within the next two months the first fuel plate which is produced with the 20 percent enriched uranium will be placed in Tehran’s research reactor,” Salehi, who previously headed Iran’s nuclear organisation, was quoted as saying.
His statement was an excerpt from a longer interview to be released “soon,” IRNA said.
The West — which fears Iran’s nuclear programme masks a push to build atomic weapons despite repeated denials from Tehran — is sceptical that the Islamic republic has the technology to make fuel plates.
Four sets of UN sanctions and additional Western sanctions have been imposed to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear programme.
Iran has been working to enrich its stock of 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium to 20 percent, which it says it needs for research and medical purposes.
Currently, the research reactor runs on fuel imported from Argentina in 1993, but that is nearly depleted. Iran’s other nuclear plant, an energy reactor at Bushehr, runs on fuel bought from Russia.
Iran was to produce its first lot of 20 percent-enriched uranium plates for the Tehran reactor in September this year, but that date passed with no result.
Salehi was quoted by IRNA as saying in mid-October that Iran would produce the plates within months.
The International Atomic Energy Agency in November released its most damning report yet on Iran’s nuclear activities, saying it had evidence suggesting research into atomic warheads had been carried out.
Iran rejected the report as “baseless” and biased.