Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Nuclear Fuel Swap: Who Can Make the Fuel Rods?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iran Nuclear Fuel Swap: Who Can Make the Fuel Rods?

Article excerpt

Under the Iran nuclear fuel swap deal reached today, Iran would get fuel rods from a third country for its reactor - possibly France. Only a few countries have the capability to make the rods.

The Iran nuclear fuel swap deal reached today with the help of Turkey and Brazil was billed as a "confidence-building" step for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful. Under the agreement, Iran would ship much of its low- enriched uranium to Turkey to exchange for fuel rods made abroad that would power its small reactor in Tehran.

Iran announced with great fanfare in February that it had begun to boost its homemade uranium enrichment levels from 3.5 percent to 20 percent - to make for itself the nuclear fuel it needs for a small research reactor in Tehran.

But nuclear specialists also say that the fuel Iran needs to power its reactor - which produces medical isotopes, and was supplied by the United States in 1967 - is a time-consuming and complicated process currently beyond Iran's capability.

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Argentina in the early 1990s converted Iran's reactor from one that used highly enriched uranium - 93 percent, suitable for making weapons - into one that required the 20 percent fuel. They also provided 120 kg of the fuel.

"That fuel provided by Argentina has been eked out over the last 17 years, and it's now run out - that's why Iran needs new fuel," says John Large, a London-based independent nuclear expert. "Not only does it need a new fuel core - about 30 to 40 kg to put in the reactor straight away - but it needs about ... 10 kg ... per year."

Russia, France likely to provide fuel rods

The deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey with Iran will be sent for approval this week to the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Russia is likely to be called upon to enrich uranium to 20 percent - a process that some estimate would take six to nine months - and France will be asked to fabricate the fuel rods. …

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