On Tuesday, Iran said that, operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant and that Western opposition will not slow down its nuclear work. Since the talks with world powers made no breakthrough, Iran opened the Saghand 1 and 2 mines in the central province of Yazd and the Shahid.
State news agency IRNA said that the Rezaeinejad yellowcake plant in the town of Ardakan in the same region will mark the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day.
Yellowcake can be further processed into enriched uranium which is necessary to make fuel for nuclear power plants, Iran’s stated aim, or if further refined, to provide material for atomic bombs .The West fears this may be the Islamic Republic’s ultimate goal.
The Talks held between Iran and six world powers which happened in Kazakhstan last week failed to make progress in resolving a decade-old dispute that threatens to trigger a new war in the Middle East. The powers want Iran to curb its uranium enrichment activity.
Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking an atomic weapons capability. It often announces technical advances in its nuclear programme, but these can be difficult to verify independently, Western experts say.
Iran has for years carried out construction work at Saghand and Ardakan, and Tuesday’s announcement was apparently intended to show that it is becoming increasingly self-sufficient in the production of nuclear fuel, despite tightening sanctions.
Some of the Western analysts however say that Iran may be close to exhausting its supply of yellowcake – or raw uranium – and that such mining in the country cannot be economical.
‘Iran has gone nuclear’
Iran has said its mines can supply the uranium ore needed for its nuclear programme and that it has no shortage problems.
IRNA said that the Ardakan plant will handle the ore from Saghand and can produce 60 tonnes of yellowcake annually. Iran, a major oil producer, says it is enriching uranium for a planned network of nuclear power stations.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation on Tuesday that the Western nations have “tried their utmost to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but Iran has gone nuclear,”
“This nuclear technology and power and science have been institutionalised . All the stages are in our control and every day that we go forward a new horizon opens up before the Iranian nation.”
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the Saghand deposits had been discovered in 1985.
The think-tank said in a 2011 report that because of the depth of the deposits and the ore’s low uranium content “the cost of yellowcake produced from the Saghand mine is likely to exceed current world market prices several times over.”
“Iran has invested in the Saghand mine to help it develop an independent source of uranium for its nuclear requirements but project development has proceeded very slowly,” it added.
As of mid-2010, construction at both Saghand and the Ardakan milling facility was continuing and there was no visible production taking place, ISIS said. It said it appeared that all Iran’s uranium mining and milling had been carried out at another mine, Gchine, in the country’s south.
A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said the scarcity and low quality of Tehran’s uranium resources “inevitably compel Iran to rely on external sources of natural and processed uranium”.
It added: “Despite the Iranian leadership’s assertions to the contrary, Iran’s estimated uranium endowments are nowhere near sufficient to supply its planned nuclear programme.”