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Iran says has own raw uranium supply, no shortage

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran’s mines can supply raw uranium for its nuclear program and it had no problems with a shortage of the material, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday.

Some Western analysts have said Iran may be close to exhausting its supply of raw uranium, or “yellow cake,” and say a shortfall raises doubts about the nature of Tehran’s work as this would be a clear obstacle for a civilian nuclear fuel program, but not for a military one.

Iranian envoy Ali Ashgar Soltanieh said Iran had no supply problems.

“Even if the reserves of yellow cake are over, of course we will be able to use yellow cake produced in Iran using our own uranium mines,” he said, shortly after the release of the IAEA’s latest report on Iran.

“Our uranium mines are working and we will be able to produce our own yellow cake too.” He could not confirm whether Iran had indeed used up its primary raw uranium stockpile.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said in a study last week that Iran does not seem to have obtained significant amounts of yellow cake since it acquired 600 tons from South Africa in the 1970s.

A diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters last week he understood the South African material had “come to an end.”

The enriched uranium required for use in nuclear reactors or weapons is produced in centrifuges that spin uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) at high speeds. The UF6 is derived in a reaction from yellow cake, a concentrate from mined uranium ore.

The ISIS report said a lack of activity at one of Iran’s two uranium mines cast doubt on Iran’s assertions it can establish independence in the fuel cycle needed for a civil program.

Iran says it is refining uranium only for a civilian nuclear program to generate electricity. But its record of nuclear secrecy and limits on IAEA non-proliferation inspections have stirred Western suspicions of an illicit quest for atom bombs.

The IAEA’s latest report showed Iran had markedly slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment plant but a senior U.N. official familiar with the inspections said a possible shortage of yellow cake would not be to blame.

“I don’t think there is any link. There is still plenty of material for the enrichment plant.

“It’s true they have consumed most of the yellow cake at the Uranium Conversion Center in Isfahan and turned it into UF6. But there is plenty of UF6 still waiting to be enriched. At the moment they have only enriched a very small quantity of the yellow cake that has been converted.”

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich)

Editing by Mark Heinrich