Iran will insert its first domestically-produced nuclear fuel rods into a research reactor in Tehran on Wednesday, a top Iranian official told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
“Because Western countries were unwilling to help us, we began enriching uranium to 20 percent to make nuclear fuel rods,” Ali Bagheri, deputy chief of Iran’s national security council, said in an interview here.
“These nuclear rods, the first created by Iranian specialists, will be inserted tomorrow into the Tehran Research Reactor in the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Bagheri said.
Insertion of the domestically-produced nuclear fuel rods would mark a significant step forward in Iran’s nuclear program, experts said.
Bagheri also confirmed that the Fordo nuclear facility in northern Iran was operational.
“It is operating under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Bagheri said in the interview in a meeting room in the national security council building.
The IAEA itself confirmed last month that Iran had begun production of uranium enriched to 20 percent at the Fordo facility, which is underground and heavily guarded.
Ahmadinejad announced last weekend that Iran would make an “important” announcement about its nuclear program this week. Media sources in Tehran told RIA Novosti that the Iranian president would announce new “nuclear achievements” on Wednesday.
Iran says its nuclear program is confined to production of peaceful atomic energy which it says is a fundamental right of any country. Western nations and Israel have charged that Tehran is secretly working to build nuclear weapons – an assertion Iran vehemently denies.
Bagheri also said that Iran's answer to a recent letter from European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would be sent 'today or tomorrow.' He said the letter contained proposals for an agenda for new talks with world powers on Iran's nuclear program, as well as the date and venue for the negotiations.
Ashton's letter, sent in October, said the international community was ready to return to talks with Tehran on its nuclear program if Iran agreed to discussions without preconditions. Iran has refused to discuss uranium enrichment.
But Bagheri said on Tuesday that Iran has "no preconditions" for talks. Iran has refused to discuss uranium enrichement and Western powers say there is no point in talks if the issue is not on the agenda.
Ahmadinejad and other top Iranian officials have said they are prepared to return to international talks about their nuclear program provided Iran is treated with respect. Iran recently however threatened to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital – and narrow – international shipping route.
On Tuesday, a US aircraft carrier strike group transited through the Strait of Hormuz, shadowed by several Iranian naval vessels, US media reported.
Tensions in the region over Iran’s nuclear activities have been on the rise in recent months as speculation has mounted that Israel may be preparing for a strike on Iranian facilities that the Jewish state says constitute a threat to its national security.
Russia helped build Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Like the West, Moscow has said it does not want to see Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, however, it has also stated that to date it has seen no evidence that Iran wants to build nuclear arms.