DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Tuesday it had delivered two batches of domestically made nuclear fuel to a research reactor in an apparent attempt to trumpet nuclear advances before negotiations with six world powers on Wednesday.
If confirmed, Iran’s ability to run the reactor with its own fuel could remove any basis for a mooted deal under which Iran would send enriched uranium abroad in exchange for such fuel, reducing its stockpile of potential atom bomb material.
“In their latest efforts, experts from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation succeeded in delivering two domestically-made nuclear fuel plates to the Tehran research reactor,” state television reported on its website.
“One of the two plates was loaded to the reactor,” the report added, without making clear when this had taken place.
Western diplomats and analysts say the Islamic Republic at times exaggerates its progress with nuclear technology to try to beef up its bargaining position towards world powers who want curbs on the program to ensure it is for peaceful ends only.
Envoys for Iran and six world powers will meet in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss ways of easing suspicions about Tehran’s nuclear energy program, which Western leaders suspect is aimed at developing bomb capability, a charge Tehran denies.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had indicated last month that Iran might be prepared to consider an updated version of a 2009 fuel-swap deal with major powers that collapsed when the two sides failed to agree on the details of implementation.
That deal would have seen Tehran export the bulk of its low-enriched uranium stockpile in return for fuel processed from higher grade uranium required to replenish imported fuel stocks for the Tehran reactor that will run out soon.
But Iran is meanwhile enriching uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent for reactor fuel. Western states suspect Iran’s underlying purpose here is to advance towards the 90 percent enrichment threshold required for an atomic bomb.
Western experts estimate Iran’s present stockpile of refined uranium is enough for four atom bombs if processed much further.
Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich