TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has submitted a proposal to Russia to jointly assemble the nuclear fuel for the country’s new power reactor and any future facilities, state media reported Thursday.
The move appeared to be an attempt by Tehran to gain some control over the nuclear fuel process at its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant. With Moscow’s help, Iran began loading uranium fuel into the facility on Saturday.
The United States and allies lifted their opposition to the Bushehr plant after Russia pledged to handle all the nuclear fuel to make sure no material is shifted to a possible Iranian weapons program in the future. The latest proposal by Iran to have even a sideline role in the nuclear fuel process could stir backlash in the West.
“We have made a proposal to Russia to create a consortium under Russian license to do part of the work in Russia and part in Iran,” the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted as saying by state-run Press TV. “We should show the world our capability in uranium production and its conversion into nuclear fuel.”
Salehi, who is also Iran’s vice-president, said Moscow is “studying the proposal.”
An official at the Russian nuclear agency said the two countries have discussed the possibility of creating a facility to assemble the fuel rods for Bushehr. The facility would operate under Russian license on Iranian territory.
But the official said the uranium enrichment would be performed on Russian soil. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, the official added that Russia first will focus on commissioning the Bushehr plant, and then turn its attention to Iran’s new proposal.
Russia is currently supplying all the uranium fuel for Bushehr. That fuel is enriched to 3.5 per cent, well below the 90 per cent enrichment needed for a nuclear warhead.
Bushehr is not considered a proliferation risk because the Iranians have agreed to allow Moscow to retrieve all the used reactor fuel for reprocessing. Spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used to make atomic weapons.
Salehi also said that Iran has produced 55 pounds (25 kilograms) of uranium enriched to 20 per cent since February. Iranian officials say the uranium enriched to 20 per cent is needed to fuel a medical research reactor.
Iran’s refusal to stop enriching uranium lies at the heart of its dispute with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran says it needs to enrich uranium to make fuel for an envisaged reactor network, but highly enriched uranium can be used to create fissile material nuclear warheads.
The United States and other nations fear Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons under the cover of its civil nuclear power program. Iran denies the charge, and says its program is peaceful.
The U.N. Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran in June over Tehran’s refusal to stop enriching uranium.