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Work starts on Iran N-plant

Tehran, Feb. 10 (Reuters): The head of Iran’s atomic energy programme today said preliminary work had begun on a plant to produce enriched uranium, although the facility was a long way from completion.

“The preliminary steps have taken place and very extensive research has already started,” Gholamreza Aqazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said in comments broadcast on state television.

“We have taken some steps but we still have a long way to go to have this plant come onstream.”

The comments, which follow Iran’s announcement yesterday that it had successfully extracted uranium and planned to process the spent fuel from nuclear reactors within the country, will add to concerns about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

Washington has accused Iran of secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme. Iran insists its nuclear plans are limited to power generation and says it has invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit its facilities.

Aqazadeh said the enriched uranium plant would be built in Kashan in central Iran.

The fuel would come from another facility in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, where a Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) was close to inauguration, he said.

The UCF plant in Isfahan had been constructed without outside help after an original plan to receive Chinese assistance fell through, he added.

A further plant to produce fuel casings for uranium was also close to completion in Isfahan.

Aqazadeh said these plants were independent of Iran’s first nuclear reactor being built with Russian help in the southern port of Bushehr and due to come onstream by early 2004.

“The Bushehr nuclear plant is independent from these plants and the fuel for this plant (Bushehr) is to be provided by the Russians based on the contract,” he said.

Iran has said it is studying the feasibility of building several more nuclear reactors to meet its booming electricity demand.

“Our policy is to complete the circle of fuel for plants for peaceful purposes,” Aqazadeh said.

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