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TEHRAN (Reuters) - The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization talked about the Islamic Republic's decision to start producing higher-grade enriched uranium this week and other issues in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.
Here are questions and answers from the interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also a vice president in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.
The interview was conducted in English.
Q: Could you explain the move to make 20 percent fuel?
A: This whole process of fuel enrichment started on Tuesday and we started feeding the chain which is specifically designed for this purpose about 2 o'clock on Tuesday. And ... after the process started ... we started getting the batch, the fuel. But of course this fuel is continuously being fed and continuously being produced and ... collected in special cylinders. And so the process is going very well. We have not seen any problems, although this was our first trial. But, thank God, everything is going fine and we have no problem at all.
Q: What is the scope of the fuel production?
A: The capacity of this chain is between 3-5 kg per month, but our need is about 1.5 kg per month for the research reactor in Tehran. So we will be adjusting the production in accordance with our need for the reactor in Tehran. This adjustment will be done. Of course we need some lead time because we have to accumulate some stock before we send them to Isfahan for fabrication. But once everything becomes continuous ... we will be adjusting the production so that we will be producing just enough for monthly use in the research reactor in Tehran.
Q: Will Iran use more than cascade of centrifuges for this fuel production?
A: No, one chain is already more than enough. As I said, our need is 1.5 kg per month. And this chain is able to produce between 3-5 kg, depends at what efficiency you use it.
Q: Can you guarantee that the IAEA will be able to adjust their cameras to make sure that Iran preserves safeguards?
A: In fact before we started the whole process, we sent a letter to the IAEA, because we consider ourselves committed to the safeguards agreement that we have with the IAEA, we are a member of the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty), we are a member of the IAEA. We do everything under the supervision of the IAEA. Nothing is done without the IAEA inspectors ... and inspectors were present when we started the transfer of uranium from big cylinders to smaller cylinders ... And they (IAEA) keep on the inspections based on mutual agreements and protocols.
Q: How much of Iran's stockpile is going to be used to produce the fuel?
A: As I said, we will adjust it. Every kg of 20 percent enriched uranium needs about 10 kg of 3.5 percent (uranium). So (it) depends how much we ... would like to produce ... So if we produce 10 kg (of) 20 percent (fuel), that means we need 100 kg of 3.5 percent enriched uranium to be fed into the chain.
Q: Some analysts say Iran lacks the technology to produce 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel? Is it true?
A: For the past 31 years whenever Iran announces something, declares it has the capacity to do something ... First they refute, then they sort of produce doubts about it and then finally they say 'ok this was not important ... everybody can do it'. On the 20 percent enriched uranium also ... they said Iran is not able to do this. But then they were shocked when ... between 36 to 48 hours after the president decreed that ... we should start the enrichment, we started the enrichment and they were shocked, and the process is going very well. Don't take my word, take the word of the agency, which will have to report anyway. Because they are responsible for the accountancy of the material ... My advice to the politicians in the West is not to listen so much to the wrong people, at least listen to real scientists and experts ... So, wait and see. So we have started the 20 percent enrichment.
Q: Don't you think President Ahmadinejad's announcement on Thursday about Iran being capable of producing 80 percent enrichment may increase concerns in the West?
A: No, ... this is a legal right which has been reflected in the different agreements that we have with the IAEA and the NPT ... There is no limit on enrichment. We can enrich up to 100 percent. So, we have this capacity and capability. But we never had the intention and we do not have the intention to do so, unless we need (to). Like this time, the 20 percent enrichment stemmed from our need. Even then, we did not prefer to produce it ourselves. It has been seven months that we have written a letter to the IAEA (saying) that we need the fuel for the Tehran reactor. But unfortunately the response so far has not been encouraging ... this reactor is producing isotopes for 850,000 patients per year and the fuel is about to finish. So, we can not really delay it until the time the fuel is totally finished and the reactor is shut down.
Q: When will the Fordow enrichment site near the central city of Qom start production of enriched uranium?
A: Depends on how much effort we put into it, but between 1.5 year to 2 years.
Q: The west is threatening Iran with more sanctions. Do you think Iran's nuclear work will be affected by sanctions?
A: Of course any sanctions will have an effect and we cannot deny it. But we have been used to sanctions for the past 31 years. We have been doing our work under ... sanctions ... but we do not welcome sanctions. If they want to impose sanctions, (they can) go ahead and impose it. We will be more self- reliant and more self-sufficient ... Let them sanction us further, we will probably do more things.
Q: How many centrifuges have been installed?
A: We are doing very well and we will have very good news about centrifuges, about the capability of our engineers to produce better centrifuges. In a few months from now, we will expose all these capabilities to the entire world to see. New versions of centrifuges.
Q: What about the 10 new enrichment sites Iran plans to build?
A: We have candidate sites, about 20 candidate sites but we have a number of criteria, we have to asses these sites in accordance with these criteria and then come up with (a) few sites. These 10 sites, of course, are not being constructed over night, all of them simultaneously. Of course nobody has claimed this. We will hopefully, in the upcoming Iranian year, we will be starting construction on one or two sites."